One of the resources that encouraged my deep dive into listening is called You’re Not Listening: What You’re Missing and Why It Matters by journalist Kate Murphy. Her conversational tone in communicating deeply-researched information makes it easy to listen to (so to speak).
In Chapter 7, Kate Murphy explains listening to views that oppose your own. She summarizes the chapter on page 88 this way: “To listen does not mean, or even imply, that you agree with someone. It simply means you accept the legitimacy of the other person’s point of view and that you might have something to learn from it. It also means that you embrace the possibility that there might be multiple truths and understanding them all might lead to a larger truth. Good listeners know understanding is not binary. It’s not that you have it or don’t. Your understanding can always be improved.”
I love challenging my own beliefs, and by extension, helping my students challenge their beliefs about the grey that lives between black and white, right and wrong, yes and no. Inspired by the work of Ellen Lupton, as well as Nadine Chahine, I’ve spoken with my students a lot this semester about the typographic non-binary and innovation possible when we take type out of their traditional classification buckets; discovering what happens when one spills into another, into another, into another. All of a sudden even huge, overarching, “fundamental” categories like “serif” and “san serif” begin to feel outdated, unnecessary and even a blockade to future innovative work in the space. I love hearing Kate Murphy use the framework to discuss the ways in which we think about listening, multiple truths made possible when we’re open to opposing sides.
Furthermore, organizational psychologist and author, Adam Grant, expands on this idea by explaining that “The highest compliment from someone who disagrees with you is not “You were right.” It’s “You made me think.” Good arguments help us recognize complexity where we once saw simplicity. The ultimate purpose of debate is not to produce consensus. It’s to promote critical thinking.”
Both of these passages are particularly fitting in the case of today’s guest, Jenna Beaton. Jenna is a Toronto-based family law litigator and a partner at Beaton Burke Young. She and I discuss the patience and restraint often needed while listening as a lawyer, as well as the directive component to listening (controlling the conversation parameters) often required in law. We explore the importance of asking the right questions, separating emotionality from the content in high stakes listening and the importance of asking ‘why’ to question the status quo.
In the same way that Jenna asks why the law is the way it is to impact change, we can each ask ‘why’ in personal exchanges to deepen our understanding of our conversational partner. Once we begin to really, actively listen to another person, empathy can form as we better understand another person’s underlying values and core beliefs. This listening invitation is all about genuinely wanting to better understand your conversational partner.
Engage in a conversation with a friend or family member. One person should act as the conversation starter and the other as the respondent. The conversation starter will ask: “What is the best thing that’s happened to you today?” The respondent will answer this question and at natural breaks throughout the conversation, the conversation starter will ask three additional questions, all of which start with ‘why’ (without switching focus to themselves). The respondent will genuinely answer the questions. Half way through (after about 4 minutes or when it makes sense to), switch roles.
Here’s an example exchange that illustrates the power of asking why with my then 4-year old, Charlotte:
Me: What was the best thing that happened to you today?
Charlotte: I got to play with a horse puzzle at school today.
Me: That’s neat! Why do you like playing with horse puzzles?
Charlotte: Because horses are like unicorns and I love unicorns.
Me: Fantastic! Why do you love unicorns?
Charlotte: I love them because they have horns and are sparkly.
The next time I’m looking to surprise my daughter with something, I now know that it comes down to the importance of the horns and the glitter. 🦄 ✨
About Our Guest:
Jenna Beaton has been a family law litigator for the past 10 years. She specializes in assisting clients with complex financial issues and complicated corporate structures. Jenna is a trial lawyer who has represented clients at all levels of court in Ontario. In addition to her active litigation practice, Jenna advises clients on domestic contracts, including marriage contracts, and frequently represents clients in mediation. She prides herself on pursuing practical and cost-effective resolutions for her clients. She appreciates that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for families going through a separation. https://www.bbylaw.ca/
Music (public domain via Free Music Archive): Jahzzar - Julia
Talk Paper Scissors Theme Music: Retro Quirky Upbeat Funk by Lewis Sound Production via Audio Jungle