posted 19 Dec 2008 in Volume 12 Issue 4
The Gurteen perspective: Learning to listen and to tell the truth
By David Gurteen
I wrote this article over five years ago and it has languished on my website without ever being published. It’s about time it was!
Do we listen in order to confirm what we already think or in order to reply? Or do we listen in order to discover something new? Do we enter into a conversation with a willingness to learn rather than the intent to force others to accept our views?
Are we willing to learn? Are we willing to change? Are we open to the truth, no matter what the consequences, no matter where it may lead us?
Are we willing to admit that we are wrong? Maybe we have always been wrong or maybe our views are no longer valid in a rapidly changing world.
Are we ready to listen? Are we open? And by being open, I do not mean gullible. Being open does not mean swallowing everything we hear hook, line and sinker. Or being talked over and walked upon, not standing for our point of view. We still need to challenge everything but from an attitude of openness, not stubbornness.
Are we prepared to tell the truth? To describe the world as we really see it? Are we prepared to accept that in being honest we will scare the living daylights out of many people?
Are we prepared to deal with people, who, when we tell the truth, will perceive it as a personal assault; an invitation to battle rather than the beginning of a real conversation.
We resist speaking the truth, and we avoid hearing it, too. Are we prepared to be vulnerable and ask people what they really think of us?
Truth is an emotive word. It is seeped in philosophical meaning. Is there a single truth? Is there a single underlying reality? Or are there many truths? Can some things be validated or falsified and others not. Or is truth a matter of individual perspective?
I’m not looking to open a philosophical debate. To my mind, in everyday matters of complex human affairs, be they business or personal, there are many truths. There is rarely such a thing as ‘the truth’ but ‘my truth’, ‘your truth’ and ‘his or her truth’. There are perspectives, not truths – perspectives based on different personal values.
In seeing the world, we are not objective, dispassionate observers. We see things through different lenses with different filters. Our observing equipment is different, shaped and formed by years of differing experiences, by our genes and by our parents and teachers. People are more different than we ever realise. What motivates us, turns us on, turns us off, makes us happy, makes us sad, fulfilled or depressed is different for all of us.
Maybe there is a single underlying reality – a single truth – maybe not – but what I think is certain is that if there is – we rarely see it or agree with it. We all experience and perceive the world differently.
If we do not listen and do not tell the truth, then what hope is there for us truly sharing, synergising and making productive our collective knowledge? We need to explore the fundamental role of conversation in knowledge management, the barriers and how to overcome them.
But fundamentally it is simple – we need ‘to learn to listen’ and ‘to tell the truth’. ?
Acknowledgements: This article has been greatly influenced by the writings of five key people: Theodore Zeldin, Anthony de Mello, Stephen R. Covey, David Bohm and Suzy Wetlaufer.