But What Are They Listening For?

I was talking with a good friend recently who was dealing with a professional dispute. The issues at hand were complex, and she and I were discussing her next steps.

She shared a draft of her notes with me, the thoughts she was marshaling for her next conversation with them. It included, in addition to her salient and concisely-stated points, a long description of some background she thought was relevant.

I asked her why she had included the paragraphs of context. She explained, “I feel like if they can hear how we got here, all the rest will make more sense.”

Maybe. But as I pointed out to her, they were already in an adversarial posture. If they were going to listen from a neutral place, looking for all the evidence on either side of the issue, hoping to be proven wrong about their position, it might be helpful to include this background.

But the truth was that they weren’t going to be listening for that. They were going to be listening for evidence that supported their own position. I worried that the more she offered, the more potential unintended consequences there might be, and that she would dilute her strong message.

It’s nice to think that we’re all always coming from a place of open-minded, calm, rational deliberation when we have a disagreement, but of course that’s not the case. Being honest about who wants what, and why, can help us prepare more practically.

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