Jordan Peterson On How To Listen 

One of the gems from Dr. Jordan Peterson on How To Listen in full glory. Enjoy:

“We’re having a conversation. I’m deciding I’m going to listen to you, right? That’s different than how people generally communicate. Because usually when they communicate, they’re doing something like, “Okay. We’re going to have a conversation, and I’m going to tell you why I’m right, and I’ll win if you agree.” Or maybe you’re having a conversation where … I don’t know what you’re trying to do. Maybe you’re trying to impress the person you’re talking to. So you’re not listening to them at all, you’re just thinking about what you’re going to say next.

So, that’s not this. This is: you might have something to tell me, and so I’m going to listen on the off chance that you’ll tell me something that would really be useful for me to know. You could think about it as an extension of the Piaget … Piaget talked about the fundamentally important element of knowledge being to describe how knowledge is sought. The process by which knowledge is generated.

Well, if you agree with me and I find that out, I know nothing more than I knew before. I just know what I knew before. And maybe I’m happy about that, because it didn’t get challenged. But I’m no smarter than I was before. But maybe you’re different than me. So while I’m listening to you, you’ll tell me something I don’t like. Maybe it’s something I find contemptible or difficult. Whatever. Maybe you’ll tell me something I don’t know, and then I won’t be quite as stupid. Then maybe I won’t run painfully into quite as many things.

And that’s a really useful thing to know, especially if you live with someone and you’re trying to make longterm peace with them as they’re not the same as you. And their way they look at the world, and the facts that they pull out of the world aren’t the same as your facts. Even though you’re going to be overwhelmed with the proclivity to demonstrate that you’re right, it is the case that two brains are better than one. Maybe nine of the 10 things they tell you are dispensable, or maybe even 49 out of 50. But one thing … all you need to get out of the damn conversation is one thing you don’t know.

One of the things that’s very cool about a good psychotherapeutic session is that the whole conversation is like that. All you’re doing is trying to express the truth of the situation as clearly as possible. That’s it. Now, Roger’s proposition … and I’ll tell you why he derived it, was that if you have a conversation like that with someone, it will make both of you better. It’ll make both of you psychologically healthier. There’s an implicit presupposition that the exchange of truth is curative.

Well, that’s a very cool idea. I mean, it’s a very deep idea. I think it’s the most profound idea. It’s the idea upon which Western civilization … although not only Western civilization, is actually predicated. The idea that truth produces health.

But for Rogers, that was entire purpose of the Psychotherapeutic Alliance. You come to see me because you want to be better. You don’t even know what that means necessarily. Neither do I. We’re going to figure that out together. But you come and you say, “Look, things are not acceptable to me, and maybe there’s something I could do about that.” That’s the minimal precondition to engage in therapy. Something’s wrong, you’re willing to talk about it truthfully, and you want it to be better. Without that, the therapeutic relationship does not get off the ground.

Then you might ask, “Well, what relationships are therapeutic?” The answer that would be if you have a real relationship, it’s therapeutic. If it isn’t, what you have is not a relationship. God only knows what you have. You’re a slave. They’re a tyrant. You’re both butting heads with one another. It’s a primate

dominance hierarchy dispute. Oh, I don’t know. You’re like two cats in a barrel, or two people with their hands around each other’s throat. But what you have is not a relationship.

All right. We may say that the greater the communicated congruence of experience, awareness, and behavior on the part of one individual … that’s a reference to the same idea that I was describing with regards to [inaudible 00:04:08]. Let’s say you come and talk to me, and you want things to go. Well, I’m going to have to more or less be one thing. Because if I’m all over the place, you can’t trust any continuity in what I say. There’s no reason for you to believe that I’m capable of actually telling you I’m capable of expressing anything that’s true.

The truth is something that emerges as a consequences of getting yourself lined up and beating all the … What would you call? All the impurities out of your soul, for lack of a better word. You have to be integrated for that to happen. You do that, at least, in part by wanting to tell the truth.

The more the ensuing relationship will involve a tendency towards reciprocal communication with the same qualities. One of the things that have been quite influenced by Rogers … one of the things I tried to do in my therapeutic sessions is, first of all, to listen. To really listen. And then while I listen, I watch. And while I’m listening, things will happen in my head. Maybe I’ll get a little image of something, or I’ll get a thought, or a question will emerge. And then I’ll just tell the person what that is.

But it’s sort of directionless, you know? It’s not like I have a goal, except that we’re trying to make things better. I’m on the side of the person. I’m on the side of the part of the person that wants things to be better, not worse. Those parts of us have a dialogue, and the consequence of that dialogue is that certain things take place, and then I’ll just tell the person what happened. It isn’t that I’m right. That’s not the point.

The point is is that they get to have an hour where someone actually tells them what they think. Here’s the impact you’re having on me. This is making me angry. This is making me happy. This is really interesting. This reminds me of something that you said an hour ago that I don’t quite understand.

And the whole point is not for either person to make the proposition, or convince the other that their position is correct. But merely to have an exchange of experience about how things are set up. It’s extraordinarily useful for people, because it’s often difficult for anyone to find anyone to talk to that will actually listen.

Another thing that’s really strange about this listening is that if you listen to people, they will tell you the weirdest bloody things so fast. You just cannot believe it. If you’re having a conversation with someone and it’s dull, it’s because you’re stupid. That’s why. You’re not listening to them properly, because they’re weird. They’re like wombats, or albatrosses, or rhinoceroses, or something. They’re strange creatures. If you are actually communicating with them, and they were telling you how weird they really are, it would be anything but boring. And you can ask questions. That’s a really good way of listening.

But one of Roger’s points is: well, you have to be oriented properly in order to listen. And the orientation has to be, “Look, what I want out of this conversation is that the place we both end up is better than the place we left. That’s it. That’s what I’m after.” And if you’re not after that, you got to think, “Why the hell wouldn’t you be after that? What could you possibly be after that would be better

than that?” You walk away smarter and more well-equipped for the world than you were before you had the conversation. And so does the other person.

Well, maybe if you’re bitter, and resentful, and angry, and anxious, and generally annoyed at the world, then that isn’t what you want. You want the other person to walk away worse than you too, because you’re full of revenge. You’ll get what you want if you do that.

We know from our research that such empathic understanding … I already defined that. I want to hear you. I want to hear what you have to say, so we can clarify it and move forward. I want to have your best interest in mind. And mine, as well. But both at the same time. Your family’s too, if we could manage that. We’re after making things better.

We know from our research that such empathic understanding … understanding with a person, not about him, is such an effective approach that it can bring about major changes in personality. Some of you may be feeling that you listen well to people and that you have never seen such results. The chances are very great that you have not been listening in the manner that I’ve described.

Fortunately, I can suggest a little experiment that you can do to test the quality of your understanding. The next time you get into an argument with your wife, or your friend, or a small group of friends, stop the discussion for a moment. And for an experiment, institute this rule. Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker accurately. What ‘accurately’ means is they have to agree with your restatement. Now, that’s an annoying thing to do. Because if someone is talking you and you disagree with them, the first thing you want to do is take their argument, make the stupidest possible thing out of it that you can … that’s the straw man, and then demolish it. So then you can walk away feeling good about it, and you primate dominated them really nicely.

But that isn’t what you do. You say, “Okay, well I’m going to take what you told me. And maybe I’m even going to make your argument stronger than the one you made.” That’s useful if you’re dealing with someone that you have to live with, because maybe they can’t bloody well express themselves very well but they have something to say. So, you make their argument strong.

All right. Then you see what this would mean. It would mean that before presenting your own point of view, it’d be necessary for you to really achieve the other speaker’s frame of reference to understand his thoughts and feelings so well that you could summarize them for him. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? But if you’ll try it, you’ll find that it’s the most difficult thing that you’ve ever done. Okay, good. We’ll leave it at that, and then we’ll see you on Tuesday.”

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