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A lively discussion enables us to grow, to learn, to develop. It act us to stretch our own knowledge muscles as we explain and explore our point of view. At the same time we are learning from our conversation partner(s), either because they bring up great points we were unaware of, or due to statements they offer that show us where we stand. Both roles are rewarding and tricky to master. As a speaker, we need to take the time to explain rather than state; as a listener we need a willingness and humbleness to listen and learn. Emotions get in the way, just as much as habits or momentary blindness of the bigger picture.

The art of listening

You can recognize great performing artists by how they interact with their fellow artists on stage. The art of musicians, actors, and dancers lives and dies with how they react to and build on what co-artists are providing. Of course, playing, speaking or dancing on cue is important, but to blend in and carry the joint artwork forward is a completely different feel. It all comes down to the art of listening. A true musician will pick up the right pitch, tone color, dynamics and flow from the bars leading up to their entry; a dancer the correct position, speed and intent of their movement; an actor the timing and emotion of their words.

The best soloists knows how to carry his fellow performers. They know that the more their art supports them the better their own work can shine – thus creating a magnificent whole. This listening goes far beyond the ears, even beyond the five senses. It is a sense – a skill – we all have. We are all artists, whether we pursue the arts or not, because living is an art in itself.

Partaking in a discussion might be unscripted and even without stage directions. But the skill of listening is just as important. It might feel like we are the most vulnerable when we do not speak, because we are providing room to counter our thoughts. But consider what you might learn, whether favorable or not, to then build on when you respond. If we just keep shouting our truth, we are not discussing anymore. When we listen we are saving energy not only because we don’t force each other to speak ever louder, but because we understand each other sooner and can move forward in the discussion.

Listen not only to their explanation, but to their tone of voice. Watch their posture and gestures. Take in the whole picture they are providing. You might be surprised at how their body language changes the meaning of the words uttered. There might be emotions hidden behind their chosen words, or things they leave unsaid, whether they are conscious of this or not. Above all, when you offer them the space to speak, you are giving them the room to fully unfold their knowledge to their best ability.

The art of explaining

A common comment among teachers is that they only truly grasped their subject when they started teaching it. Just try and explain to someone who has never swum how to do it. Even a regular swimmer will find themselves looking at their movements from a very different angle when explaining them or helping a struggling student grasp an aspect. If you keep repeating yourself or fixate on your experience, that student is likely to continue to struggle. The building frustration will soon be shared by both of you. Yet if you strive to meet them on their level, figure out what they are not grasping and why, you are becoming a wonderful teacher.

Likewise, if you keep repeating your point of view in a discussion you will not get far. This too, can create shouting matches and standstills. At best, the result are inflated and hurt egos. Again each party is only sticking to what they know and ignoring where the others are coming from. Taking the time to meet your partner(s) at their level will enable you to create understanding and move forward.

In doing this, bear in mind that their level need not be higher or lower, but just drifting a little way away. In building a bridge between the two plains you create an understanding and move forward. Truly, ex-plain: leave your plain of thought to explore the others and thus work together to meet a common goal.

Each of you is stepping to the discussion table with valuable knowledge. Knowledge each of you want to pass on to create a bigger picture. We are there to help each other understand the different points of view and discover common or even new grounds. Just think of how long nature needs to reclaim and regrow a burnt down forest area.  The grounds we wanted to explore in the discussion are left undiscovered or are destroyed if we sidestep explaining and turn to suppressing others or fighting.

The yin and yang of a discussion

A discussion is a give and take; a listening and explaining; an absorbing and offering of information. As you are listening, encourage them to offer their best knowledge; as you explain, encourage them to examine what you have to offer. Meet the other in a mindset of helping each other and those you represent, in blending your expertise to create new and better solutions for all involved. The etymology of the word “discussion” tells to examine, to shake up, to take apart. But all these verbs are directed on the subject matter, not your fellow examiners, ~shakers and ~dissectors. In redirecting our energy from the subject matter to our partner(s) we might as well be saying “I would rather not solve this, but find an easy way out.”

True discussion requires a bravery in being humble and open. It asks us to be loving and even vulnerable. It asks us to be flexible and discover or redefine options. Most importantly it says that we want to solve something together by uniting forces. When we work together there is an immense force. An immense energy at our disposal to create what the discussion has brought forth as solutions, whether to us as individuals or as a group moving forward.

If you want to learn more about how to work together in discussions or similar, check out Leslie J. Hart’s articles about the Council of Fire (Part I, II and III).

Photo Credit:
(c) Can Stock Photo / sarah2