You know how you can be going along in a conversation with a friend or a loved one, and it all seems to be good, and suddenly, you say something and the conversation stalls or stops entirely. And you’re thinking "What happened?" You didn’t say anything insulting or mean, you just voiced your opinion. Or so you think…
I had lunch the other day with a dear friend I hadn't seen in a long time. I travel a lot for work, and she used to. I was bemoaning the tediousness of air travel - TSA, the delays, crowded conditions and all the rest - and I said how I would love some day to turn left instead of right when I boarded the plane. Namely, to saunter into the first class cabin where surely conditions were far better than in economy, my usual haunt.
My friend said "You know what I used to do? I'd buy my coach ticket, but then, at the last minute, right before boarding started, I’d go up to the counter agent and ask if there were any first class seats still available. And often, they’d say 'yes!' and I'd only pay an extra $200 instead of $2000 and get to fly first."
I immediately retorted with "Oh, that would never happen now. They jam the planes so full, there's never an available seat to be had."
And with that, the conversation ended - at least that part of it.
It was only later that it hit me, I had unwittingly denied my friend's experience of life. I had flat out slammed my reality in her face, as if hers didn't matter.
There are few things worse that we do to our friends and loved ones than make them feel like they don't matter. We rarely mean to, yet we do it all the time. It would have been so easy for me to consider her experience in my response: "I never thought of that. I wonder if it would still work, given the general overcrowding." I would not have thus denied either her experience or mine. And there would have been a continuing basis for conversation, had we wished to do so.
Simply put, instead of listening competitively "My experience is more right than yours" "I know better than you do about this," we need to (I need to!) listen to learn. Listen to those we care about with an ear to "What does this mean to them? How did they experience it? What about their experience might broaden my perspective?"
Relationships are about caring and sharing. What better way to do both than listening to learn!