Years ago, in the midst of a heated argument, I heard someone stop the discussion and say of their opponent, “I want to hear their side of the story before I respond.” Now, I mentioned this little piece of wisdom in my previous post, “Moderation is Key,” but it bears repeating here. Instead of immediately launching into his take of the events at the crux of the disagreement, this man stopped in order to entertain the opportunity of discovering more information. He wanted to make sure he had a solid understanding of his opponent’s position before he responded with is own thoughts and feelings on the matter. This may seem like a simple thing, but for something as simple and fundamental as having all of the information before choosing a side, it is incredibly difficult, and incredibly rare.
Anyone who has ever been in an argument can identify with the frustration of waiting for someone to end his or her speech in order to get your own point out faster. Sometimes we don’t even listen to one another as we mental rehearse our own points. Why is this? Why even have arguments and disagreements if we have collectively decided ahead of time that we cannot be swayed? At that point, fighting becomes absolutely futile. If no one is willing to take in new information and potentially adjust his or her stance or beliefs, then why are we wasting our breath at all?
I would encourage everyone to break that pattern, and to become not only someone who listens, but someone who understands. Every time you have a disagreement with someone about anything, stop the clock and take a moment to appreciate his or her side. I get into this a bit in my piece on negotiation – it is important to understand where someone is coming from, and what their needs are. I would say that the best way to truly achieve understanding of someone else’s perspective is to actually argue their side for them. You want to get to a point of comprehension so strong that you can actually argue in favor of your opponent.
The ability to empathize so effectively is going to make you a better, stronger, happier person. Think about it, unhappiness is often born from anger over perceived injustice. Failure to get what you want may feel like an injustice to you, but may not look like it from the other side. If you foster the ability to understand why something didn’t go your way, you will be able to made adjustments the next time around, all without getting worked-up over the results.
This is not an easy thing to achieve, and it will likely take hard, conscious work throughout your life, but if you can get to a space in which you can truly understand your opponent, it will be well worth it.