There is an old Vermont joke in which two farmers are listening to a politician’s campaign speech. One of the farmers turns to the other and asks, “What is he talking about?” “He don’t say!” his friend responds. While this always generated a chuckle, it has become a little too true to be funny these days. Our inability to engage in civil discourse is at the lowest point in recent history.


Often times we are so quick to get our point across, we miss what others are saying entirely. Some would attribute this to the “Rehearsal Curve” ( we are so busy preparing for “our turn,” we pay little or no attention to the message being delivered.) There may be something deeper at work. We need to build our capacity to listen to each other for sure – but to listen for meaning. Heifetz and Linsky refer to this as “the song beneath the words.” Here lie the values, fears, loyalties, and losses driving us apart.


It most likely feels a bit risky – to loosen our grip on our own point of view. It is important to remember one of our deepest needs as humans is to feel understood. Because of that, we recommend that understanding ought to always be your starting point – make the other person feel understood. People can handle a lot more disruption, disappointment and conflict when they do.


Here’s an experiment to run:


Step One – Let the other person finish. (It enables you to request the same courtesy in return.) Be patient. If people are worked up, it can take a few attempts to get through this.

Step Two – Reflect what you heard. Rather than just repeat their words, frame as their interests and/or concerns, what worries them, about whom they are most concerned etc. Be concise and refrain from adding your “two cents” or some other form of evaluation dressed up as “feedback.”

Step Three – Comment on shared views or concerns. Common ground helps all stay in the conversation longer.

Step Four – Frame the difference between your points of view. Be descriptive not evaluative. Until there is an agreement of the landscape, it is folly to attempt a crossing.


Try this. It is not complicated, but quite tricky to do. Be part of the solution. Good luck.