We are all permanently 8 years old.
You remember this: on the playground, at recess, little Billy or little Susie said something you didn’t like, so you stuck your fingers in your ears, shouting, “Lalalalalalala!” and adding, quite superfluously, “I can’t hear you!”
I wish I could say that, as adults, we’ve all grown out of this, but we haven’t. We’ve just gotten more sophisticated about it and driven it underground – instead of advertising that we aren’t listening, we don’t even notice it ourselves.
At a recent gathering I had the opportunity to listen to a lively debate about a potentially controversial subject. As it happened, both the speakers and myself agreed about the bottom line, so there was no opportunity for it to turn into a real argument, or at all nasty; it was more, “If X is true (which we all agree on), how did it get to be that way and how should we view that process (admitting that we all know none of us have the answers)?”
I’m fond of a good debate and enjoyed this one very much, but after about five minutes I became conscious of a deep, instinctual resistance to everything that was being said.
This struck me as odd. If I agree with someone in the areas where I think I have the answers, why should it bother me if they have a different theory in an area where I have no strong opinion? Why should I have so strong an urge to shut down the whole discussion?
That is something I don’t have an answer for yet, so my point is more along these lines: wow, the level of awareness that is needed about oneself.
I think I pay attention to these things more than most people, and having recently read Buy-In and Good Boss, Bad Boss and listened to a lecture about how we have no control over other people, it was top-of-mind for me… and I barely realized it.
So I don’t think I ever realized before how much effort it is to keep a truly open mind.
And also, as a speaker, it’s worth being aware that your listeners may be having these reactions too, and if you or they don’t realize it, you’re not getting through to them any more than if they were plugging their ears and shouting, “I can’t hear you!”