Ever run up against someone who seems to think they have it all figured out? No matter what you ask, they have an answer. No matter what you believe, they have a better explanation. Frustrating, right? Well, sooner or later, most of us realize, on some given issue or another, that “Someone” is “Me.”
All of us have a version of the truth, a part of the whole that includes all our knowledge and experience related to the subject. As long as we realize that understanding has limits, we have the capacity to learn, to gain better understanding and a deeper, more nuanced perspective. When we decide our version of the truth is the Whole Truth, or even that it’s Good Enough, we create limits on our capacity to be the best versions of ourselves.
How truth stifles growth
Every time we assign meaning to an idea, when we make it “true or accept it as “truth,” we place a value on that idea. When we take the step of assuming our truth is better or more complete than any other relevant truth, we tend to attach that meaning to ourselves. We let that truth begin to define our value. From that point forward, any challenge to that truth, no matter how valid or consequential, is received as a de-valuing of ourselves. That assumed truth becomes the point at which we stop becoming our best selves.
When a person believes they have the whole truth, they will set limits on their capacity to grow while forcing similarly limiting lids on the potential of those around them. In this way, one person’s assumption of truth will hold others — enterprises, organizations, teams and relationships — hostage, simply because they believe they alone possess the whole truth.
When we’re being honest, most of us are quick to admit our limited capacity to learn and know. Not one of us knows everything, nor do we have the time to learn it all. Even if we believe we have a source of complete truth, the interpretation of that source requires dedicated study and remains up for debate. When we allow truths to feel so connected to our personal meaning, we will cling to those truths, even when we know, deep down, we have not tested those ideas … and they may not really be true at all.
When we choose to shift our thinking, embracing the understanding that we only have a limited version of truth, a slice of the whole, we begin to better understand the value we add to others as well as the value they bring to us. This is a vital step in leadership development, because our relationship to truth influences more than just our capacity to be our best. It influences how we relate to others as well.
When we believe we have the whole truth, we cease listening to others and simply begin waiting for them to stop talking… Most times, hurting or offending the other person is the farthest thing from our mind. We’re simply so stuck in our own meaning — our own version of the truth — that we don’t connect with the way our communication is negatively influencing the other person. Let’s turn that around for a moment. How do you feel when you’re around someone who appears to be more interested in correcting your point of view than in hearing your point of view? Does that make you feel valued? That the person truly cares about or appreciates your contribution? Many of us would be surprised to learn that’s how others are interpreting our communication. And yet, that’s exactly what’s shared most when people talk about communication issues. “They aren’t listening” is very frequently articulated as “they don’t care about what I have to say.” See the difference there? One is about action, while the other is about value and intention. When it comes to listening, the action is directly connected to perception of value.
This perception is emphasized when a person grows impatient with the person speaking and begins to speak over them. When we make the choice to interrupt, even when we’re certain our perspective is more accurate or “better,” and our intent is solely to correct the content of the conversation rather than the person, that choice projects a lack of value for the other person, because they perceive their meaning is not being considered.
Constructive listening begins when we concentrate on listening for someone, rather than listening to them. In addition to focusing on the details of what they are saying, focus on who they are being as they are communicating. That’s where you will find motivation, heart, passion and conviction, and that’s where our truths align. This is vital, because creating an opportunity for two truths to come together is key to constructive communication.
When we understand our truth is incomplete, and we allow ourselves to understand who someone is being and what they mean by what they’re saying, we experience less confusion, less assumption and less miscommunication. We open ourselves up to a more complete truth. We understand more, we understand it sooner, and we understand it better.
Where are you on this? Do you find it difficult to listen for meaning in addition to content? Was there ever a time when truth – yours or others – limited your potential? Share your story in the comments below.