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Why can listening sometimes lead to a dialogue of the deaf?

It's been hard for anyone to escape the news surrounding the "yellow waistcoats" movement for the past three months. Like in a play, we're almost at Act XIV and it looks like it will last until the European elections. All the media have got hold of it, giving demonstrators, the government, politicians of all stripes, trade unions, local councillors, intellectuals, sociologists, experts and preachers of all kinds a voice in the streets and on television.

What are we hearing?


Faced with this crisis and conflict, everyone is complaining that they are not being listened to, that they do not feel understood or heard, that they feel scorned, rejected and cheated - in short, that there is no dialogue. Everyone blames each other for the problem and everyone is frustrated. Strong emotions are expressed (anger, hatred, envy) and lead to serious skids and confrontations, so much so that we have witnessed scenes of unacceptable violence, urban guerrilla warfare and virtual insurrection.

Although there were of course professional rioters at the demonstrations, the excesses were countless: ransacking of the Arc de Triomphe museum, destruction and looting of shops and street furniture, destruction of toll booths and 50% speed cameras, threats against politicians and journalists and a mock beheading of the President of the Republic. All this under the indulgent and complacent eye of a section of the political class whose sole aim is to win them over and attract their clientele, but without really succeeding.

The government's belated overture to dialogue was nipped in the bud by the difficulty of appointing credible representatives accepted by all. This is the first condition for resolving a crisis. To negotiate, you need at least two people.

Sit around a table to listen and talk 

To move from monologue to dialogue, you need to know what is meant and what is not meant.

It's not 

For many people, feeling listened to and understood necessarily means being approved by the other party in their demands or proposals. To achieve this, the parties involved launch into sequences of arguments and counter-arguments that they throw back in each other's faces, unfortunately only making the situation worse. In this highly tense face-off, each side digs its heels in, tries everything it can to defeat the other's arguments and, above all, hopes that the other side will give in.

How many times in interviews with certain gilets jaunes was it repeated over and over again: " We are not being listened to because Macron has not increased the minimum wage by 50% as we demanded. ". And when some rare journalists point out that the government has listened to them and abolished the carbon tax, for example, this is brushed aside with a wave of the hand: " We want more "followed by a new list of demands not foreseen at the start of the movement.

This is indicative of the threefold certainty in which each party is locked:

- she is right and the other is wrong
- that it holds the truth
- that if there's a problem, it's inevitably the other person's fault

This is a clear rejection of dialogue by the very people who are calling for it. Is it any wonder, then, that the result is a dialogue of the deaf, a showdown or, worst of all, a general retreat?

But, as it says in this lovely text Letters to Nour by Rachid Benzine read at the theatre by Eric Cantona: " The opposite of knowledge is not ignorance but certainty. ".

What is listening and dialogue?

If there are obstacles to listening, it's because many people confuse listening with agreeing. As a result, they are afraid of it and shy away from dialogue. But dialogue means putting your certainties on hold for a moment and allowing yourself to be permeated by the other person's point of view and ideas. This leads to a better understanding of the other's vision and perception, and can result in an evolution of our ideas and perhaps a change on both sides.

Really listening means doing the opposite of what is usually done. Here are a few practical examples:
-Moving from a desire to convince to a desire to learn.
-Practising active listening.
- Understand the other person before trying to make them understand you. To do this, listen to the other person's version first before giving your own.
- Put yourself in the other person's shoes to see and understand how they see things.


In conclusion

If you want the other person to listen to you, you have to be able to repeat their arguments better than they did themselves. This is the essential condition for the other person to listen to you. In our negotiation training coursesOur participants discover that there is nothing more persuasive than being open to persuasion. But beware: a misunderstanding of the meaning of listening often leads to misunderstanding and a dialogue of the deaf. Listening is not necessarily agreeing.

When the situation is tense, what difficulties do you encounter when listening and how do you manage to overcome them? Share your experience in the comments.

See also

the European Negotiation Centre, quoted in Le Point.

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