Winning the argument: First you have to listen-communication skills training

Blog by Jean M. Schmith for Dan O'Connor

Winning the argument: You want to be heard?  First you have to listen.

Every effective communication skills course includes a section on listening, and that's as it should be, because listening is critical to understanding.  However, there is another reason for being an effective, empathetic listener.  Other people are more apt to listen to YOU if they see you are listening to THEM.  Winning the argument requires that people LISTEN to the argument.

False Premise:  People will be impressed if I lay out my arguments forcefully.

Reality:  People want to discover their own truths; they don't want you and me to cram facts down their throats forcefully.

Example:  Think of that person in your life that you consider a know-it-all.  Consider whether that person listens to you when you speak.  Consider how he/she "educates" you and pontificates and speechifies.  Are you persuaded?  Do you want to listen to that person?  Do you enjoy engaging in conversation with that person?  Does that person ever "give in" to any point you make--even when the point is demonstrably true?  EVERYONE has someone like this in his/her life.  Sometimes it's a teenager.  Sometimes it's an adult who has yet to learn how to persuade people.  Sometimes it's a person who thinks knowledge and facts are all that are required to convince others.  Sometimes it's just an immature person who is insecure and wants to impress, rather than arrive at truth.

Second example:  Now, think of people in your life to whom you pay attention--people you REALLY listen to when they speak.  My bet is you are thinking of someone who listens to you and then responds to what you said--calmly and without turning words into speeches.  You listen to this individual for a reason.  He or she is listening to you and then speaking TO you, not AT you.

Solution:  Listen carefully to what others think and then respond calmly and reasonably, giving in to whatever positions you have in common.  Never ever speechify or pontificate because (remember the examples--from your own experience) listeners will tune you out and await their turn to speak--with thoughts unencumbered by whatever you were offering.

So the next time you are having an argument, turn it into a discussion by listening, knowing that when you listen you dramatically increase the odds that the person to whom you're speaking will likewise listen to you.  Then speak calmly--to the listener, not at the listener.  Surrender points as you go along--whenever you can--so that it is obvious you aren't trying to lecture and be a know-it all.  I KNOW the title of this blog begins with "Winning the argument."  I'll admit to being a little misleading.  The true goal of an effective, compassionate, mindful communicator should not be "winning the argument."  It should be to turn the argument into a discussion where both sides are heard.  And it should be to present your points in an enlightened manner.  If you can accomplish those goals, you'll be persuasive.  You'll be able to transform the mind and heart of the listener--which is the object of persuasion attempts in the first place.  "Winning the argument" can be self-satisfying, but only for the moment.  But transforming the minds and hearts of people?  So much more gratifying, and something that can last a lifetime.


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