Do You Want to Listen Or Do You Want to Be Right?

listen graphicYou may think you’re a good listener, but are you really? When someone is talking, are you listening to UNDERSTAND or to REPLY?


Think about it. If someone is talking to you about something emotional on a topic that you feel strongly about, are you trying to understand them or are you preparing your rebuttal?

“Listen or your tongue will make you deaf.” ~Cherokee proverb

Some time back on this blog I shared a few concepts from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. I taught the material in corporate America for 20+ years, and it fundamentally changed how I think and behave for the better.

Now is the right time to share another habit–Habit 5, Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.

People are passionate about politics, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement, amongst other things, and that’s good. Passion combined with persistent action drives change when change is needed.

However, constructive, fully-informed, and sustainable change will NOT occur, no matter how passionate you are, if you’re not truly listening to the other person’s position.

What do I mean by “truly listening?”

I mean setting aside your own beliefs and emotions long enough to hear and fully understand the other person. This requires you to leave your ego at the door.

It does not matter if you agree or disagree with the other person; what matters is that you understand their ideas, grievances, experiences and position on an issue.

To communicate effectively, we must first understand each other. This can create solutions to complex problems, clarity on the issues and effective problem-solving. Once you understand each other, move to a solution around your commonalities, your shared wants. The best change is rarely one person’s idea or the other’s.

Social Media Can Hurt in Times of Conflict

I see a lot of passionate Facebook posts on the important topics of the day. I also see a lot of counter-arguments. These posts can go on and on, often with no one changing their position or seeing things in a new way. That is because people do not want to change their opinion–they are set in their own. They don’t want to learn the other person’s position–because their position is the right one. PERIOD.

One study by Mehrabian and Albert says that:

  • 7% of our meaning is understood by the words we say.
  • 38% of our meaning is understood by our tone of voice and style.
  • 55% of our meaning is understood by our facial expressions and body language.

When you combine the commentary of a person who is not interested in learning anything new or understanding a different perspective with the statistics above, how effective is the social media exchange?


Relationships can easily be damaged when these exchanges happen. If I have a serious disagreement with another person, I pick up the phone to talk it out or go see them in person. The first thing I do is try to understand their position, not to judge it. I find this much more effective, it preserves the relationship, and sometimes even improves it.

Bottom line: It’s great to feel passionate about a topic, but you must listen to understand the opposing view, not to refute it. Once the parties on each side of an issue understand it from the other’s perspective, and feel respected, constructive change can begin.

“It seems rather incongruent that in a society of super-sophisticated communication, we often suffer from a shortage of listeners.” ~Erma Bombeck

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