I am a firm believer in the power of conversation. My wife, Claire, and I facilitate a batterer intervention program on a weekly basis. The format we follow is a directed discussion where we try to learn from the real world experiences of everyone in the class, including ourselves. These are conversations, and they are powerful.
One of the recent insights I got out of the class has almost become an axiom to my world view. In the context of logging the experiences of the guys in the class on the white board, I put up the belief “I know better.” As we looked at where the belief lead in the effects on others, and the intentions and actions it was very interesting how thoroughly that belief shuts real conversation down. When you believe that you know better, you are not interested in anything but being heard.
And here’s the tricky irony. Being heard is very important, but if you are heard while you believe that you know better there’s a pretty good chance that being heard will harm you more than it helps you. All of this stems from the belief that has really become axiomatic for me. So when we uncover a belief in class that is clearly keeping us trapped, the next step is to try and figure out what true belief the problematic belief is a substitute or counterfeit of. In this case I believe that true belief is this: “I have an important perspective, and so do others.” This is the true belief that can keep both my integrity as a person with a real and important perspective, and the space and empathy needed to hear the person who disagrees with my point of view. That is the basis for conversation, true conversation.
So now I encounter the world with the belief, not that I know better, but that I have an important perspective. I want to state that perspective as clearly and persuasively as possible, but I am not in that moment closed off from hearing about other perspectives, even those that disagree. And that’s where the power of conversations can flourish. When I am interested in not only making my point and explaining my perspective but I am interested in the points and perspectives of my conversational partner. And when we actually engage the magic of true conversation something so amazing happens, the best and most sincere ideas I can articulate meet the best and most sincere ideas of others and a kind of dance begins and our understanding grows exponentially. My perspective is important, but limited. By joining it to the experiences of others, I can make it grow and become better, more mature, and more useful.
And at the end of the day, this idea boils down to having empathy, and listening. So if you would like to grow and broaden your experience, I recommend, conversations built on the foundational idea that you have an important perspective, but so do others.