Listening to Others: Part 3

Remember that last time when you clearly saw that the other person was wrong, but they stubbornly refused to listen to you. It’s so tempting to label these people as narrow-minded, naïve, or ‘amateur experts’ — people who think they know what they are talking about when they actually have no idea.

But are they resisting your input because they are just obstinate, or because you jumped in to tell them why they were wrong without listening first?

Let’s look at the following conversation as an example. Carla and Simon are chief executives of Wholistic Foods, a chain of grocery stores that sells fresh foods with no additives. Their sales have been declining for 2 years and they are debating how to turn the situation around.

Simon: Our customers are spending less per visit. I think our product offering is too basic. We should expand into more exclusive wholesome products.
Carla: No, our customers don’t want more premium products. But we are losing the e-commerce business. We need to spend more on advertising our online shopping site.

Simon: Yes, our e-commerce is important. But it won’t matter if customers can’t find what they want.
Carla: We can’t afford to expand our product line. We have already taken on a lot of debt and we can barely pay our staff as it is.

Simon: Advertising is going to cost a lot too.
Carla: Not as much as an expanded product line would. And besides, paying for advertising will increase our sales much faster compared to a larger product offering.
Simon: But customers aren’t going to buy on our website if they can’t find products they want!

Why people resist your point-of-view

There are two reasons why people resist listening to your input:

  1. You haven’t first acknowledged their point-of-view
    Carla thought that Simon was wrong, and she wasted no time in telling him so. But if you don’t acknowledge what the other just said, you are telling them: “I don’t care what you think. Your thoughts have no value.” No one will listen to a person who treats them with such disrespect.
  2. You haven’t been curious enough to learn why they think they are right
    The reality is that. Every. Person. Is. Right. Because based on the knowledge we have and how our past experiences have shaped our thinking, it makes perfect sense why we make the decisions we do. Do you think taxes are too high? Then you are right. Do you think taxes are too low? You are right too. Others’ opinions only seem illogical when we don’t see what they see. The key is to ask “Why do you think that way?”.

How to create more productive discussions

I have two suggestions for how we can make our discussions more fruitful.

  1. Always think: “This person is right”
    The reality is that. Every. Person. Is. Right. Because based on the knowledge we have and how our past experiences have shaped our thinking, it makes perfect sense why we make the decisions we do. Others’ opinions only seem illogical because we don’t see what they see. When you think: “I don’t quite understand this person’s logic, but I know that it makes sense from their point-of-view”, it’s so much easier to listen.
  2. Ask: “Why do you think that way?”
    Once you believe that the other person is right, ask: “Why do you think that way?”. This question does two things. First, the other person can explain their thinking so that you may see the issue through their eyes. Second, by showing interest in what they have to say, they will be open to hearing what you have to say.

How the conversation could have turned out differently

Simon: Our customers are spending less per visit. I think our product offering is too basic. We should expand into more exclusive wholesome products.
Carla: Tell me more about that. Why do you think our product line is too basic?

Simon: Ever since our competitor Green Eats launched their premium produce section we have been losing our highest-spending customers. More of our customers now are college students who only shop for the lowest price.
Carla: I didn’t know we had been losing that customer segment! Now I see why you feel we must expand our brand in new directions. What issues do you feel we need to consider if we were to offer more premium products?

Simon: Many things. Expanding our product line is going to be very expensive, and we are already strapped for cash as it is. How are we going to pay for it? Also, what if customers actually don’t want exclusive products and we end up risking the entire business?
Carla: Yeah, those are two important issues we would need to solve. Which branch of our products do you feel is most in need of an upgrade?

Simon: Our fish products. We only offer frozen fish but we don’t have any fresh produce.
Carla: What if we opened a delicacy fish counter in just two of our stores as an experiment? That would allow us to test the concept at minimum cost.

Simon: That’s not a bad idea. I think we should do it!
Carla: Great! I feel that we also need to boost our e-commerce business. I think we should run ads about our website in the online newspapers.

Simon: I agree that our e-commerce is important, but newspaper ads are too expensive. Isn’t there a more cost-effective way to acquire new customers?
Carla: Good point. It would be better to examine how users discover our online shopping site. Then we can see which methods give us most customers at least cost.

Simon: Ok. So I will oversee the opening of the two new delicacy fish counters and you will examine how we can get more customers to our website in the most cost-effective way.
Carla: Sounds like a plan!

By 1) adopting the mindset that Simon was right to expand the product line, and 2) by asking “Why do you think that way?”, Carla allowed Simon to share important info that she didn’t know about. Instead of defending their ideas, they were both able to bring their own knowledge and perspectives to synergize a better solution together.

What issues have you faced where you believed the other person was wrong?
How would that conversation have turned out if you had asked: “Tell me more. Why do you think that way?”.

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Henrik Angelstig

Henrik Angelstig

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I am a 22-year-old bachelor’s student who is a fanatic when it comes to fulfillment, productivity, and helping others achieve goals that matter.