How Listening to People We Don’t Agree with Helps Us

being an active listener promotes happiness, well-being

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

Actively listening to contrary views is difficult. We often want to interject and stop them mid-sentence to convey our own message, leading to communication breakdowns. This week on Wondrium Shorts, master the art of opening your ears.

Being an effective speaker starts with becoming an active listener. This is one of the most surprising, but essential, practices in the video series How to Speak So That People Want to Listen by popular TED Talks speaker Julian Treasure, which is available now to stream on Wondrium. One of the best exercises in learning how to effectively listen is also one of the most challenging: listening to someone with whom you disagree.

This week on Wondrium Shorts, pick up some tips and tricks for listening to views contrary to your own—although that doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. Julian Treasure, who is also the founder of The Sound Agency, offers more on the subject.

There’s a Reason It’s Called “Exercise”

Listening carefully to a view that we disagree with can be difficult, to the point of excruciating, for some people. However, it’s also a vital skill to obtain in order to become a better speaker.

“That’s a really fine exercise,” Treasure said. “Giving them the respect to listen to their position fully without jumping in, butting in, ‘Yeah but…,’ ‘No, you’re wrong,’ none of that stuff. Just listen to them and let their views wash over you and integrate them. There may be something in there you can learn from.”

“No pain, no gain” is a common phrase, and listening to a contrary view at length can certainly be painful. So what’s the reward? According to Treasure, there are three prizes at stake: happiness, effectiveness, and well-being.

With regard to happiness, he pointed out that most research on happiness says that it depends on connectedness and service. In order to connect to others, speaking and listening are vital; in order to serve others, it’s important to learn how they wish to be served. Likewise, effectiveness and well-being are affected by the sounds around us.

How to Listen to People You Disagree With

“This exercise is important in that it will help you to be less entrenched and righteous in your views—a tendency that is driving the whole world into more conflict and less understanding,” Treasure said. “The internet, and especially social media, has become a tool for justification, where we search for views that make us feel right and justified; seldom do we explore the other side to see if there’s any value in other perspectives.”

It can be easiest to start with the media. When a newscaster reads the prepared copy to the camera, the connection is less direct than if someone sits in front of us and speaks to an audience of one. This practice makes listening feel safer and simpler. Also, according to Treasure, it will help to become genuinely interested in views one disagrees with, approaching from a point of curiosity. What paths did someone take to believe this claim? Can you find value in the belief?

“I am not suggesting you become gullible or start accepting the unacceptable,” Treasure said. “Some people’s views are clearly wrong; wicked; or even evil, judged by the commonly accepted standards of civilized society. By all means do be discerning, but at the same time be interested and attempt to understand why or how opposing views came about.”

This article is part of our “Deeper Dive” series where we examine the stories behind our Wondrium Shorts on YouTube.

Edited by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily