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Two ears, one mouth – a formula for dealing with challenge

July 18 was World Listening Day. A brilliant reminder of one of our most important communication skills (we do have two ears and one mouth, after all). And a prompt to heed Buddha’s excellent observation:

“If your mouth is open, you’re not learning”.

The concept of listening to an opposing viewpoint rather than shouting it down or silencing it is one of my passions, and it’s part of my RATIO technique.

The idea for RATIO struck me in the middle of a conversation with a dear friend who happens to hold very different political views to me. She expressed an idea which I profoundly disagreed with. I admit I felt a surge of anger and resentment but, for some reason, on that day, instead of coming back with my (equally strongly held but opposing) opinion, to prove that she was wrong and I was right, I felt myself thinking ‘I wonder why she thinks that?’.  I wanted to understand her perspective; the experiences, events and influences which had shaped her views.

And so I responded with ‘Why?’, and RATIO was delivered into the world.

RATIO is simply a formula to achieve the best outcome when you’re challenged by an opinion/perspective which makes you feel uncomfortable. A recipe for maintaining control. A strategy for following Aristotle’s excellent observation:

“It’s the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

The starting point, the R is Respect, and this is a mind set shift. It involves recognising the other person’s entitlement to have a different opinion to yours. It doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with them or abandoning your position but it’s about setting a tone of curiosity rather than combat.

With that mindset, it’s natural that what follows is a genuine desire to find out what’s led them to that perspective. A is Ask. Magical things happen as we listen (proper listening, not waiting to speak). We might hear something reasonable and logical that makes sense of their position and unlocks the conversation.

We might hear something which weakens their position, eg is factually incorrect and which we can call out. Or we might realise that while our heckles were busy rising, we misunderstood or misinterpreted what they said.

The T of RATIO is Think – processing, analysing what we’ve heard and thereby continuing to respect the other person rather than rushing to shut them down. It’s a fundamental principle of negotiation and conflict resolution that people who feel they’ve been listened to, are more willing to listen.

The I of RATIO is Inform. Now it’s our turn to put our perspective forward. Important here that we support it with evidence. That could be factual material, personal testimony, lived experience.

And finally, O is Offer – suggestions as to how the issue moves forward. Helpful here is to relax about turning their opinion round to yours (proving that you’re right and they’re wrong) but rather aiming for better mutual understanding and a broader perspective on the world than we had before. This is especially valuable since many of us, without realising it, are falling victim to the online echo chamber phenomenon where we are largely exposed to material which reinforces our existing beliefs.

You might offer to send them an interesting article; they might offer you a thought-provoking podcast or, in the case of a disagreement about the best chippie in the world, you might decide to visit each of your favourites together.

Now if that’s not worth listening, and giving RATIO a go, I don’t know what is.

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