The answer is three.
The first one is the most obvious; the words both of you are using plus the body language. The second is the one in your head. The third one is in the other party’s mind.
Which one should you focus on?
You must try hard to listen to the third conversation. When you do that, you will find out what is in the other parties heart – swiftly. The real issue, the real message. The first conversation is only symbols and clues for us to uncover the third conversation.
Let’s look at some examples.
- Your mom complains you always come home late and treat the house like a hotel. The real message could be that she wants to spend more time with you.
- Your partner says that you don’t love her anymore. The real message could be “I need a hug”.
- When someone complains he or she has so much work at the office, the real message could be, “I am a very important person in the company”.
The ability to listen to the third conversation is very productive, cuts out lots of noise and unnecessary arguments. But it needs empathy, understanding and compassion. One must WANT to listen to the other side.
Unfortunately, most times our second conversation is so loud that we become totally deaf to the third conversation. Many are quick to frame answers and comments while the other party is still framing their words and has yet to complete their sentences.
Many will be busy picking whatever 'ammunition' they can get from the first conversation to win an argument or simply hit back - wrongly using the clues within the first conversation as comebacks. Most times hurting the other and spiralling the exchange into arguments and a heated debate.
Taking the examples above, we may find the comebacks as the following.
- Suggesting that in no way you can treat your home as a hotel, as a hotel would have had a swimming pool and better amenities.
- Suggesting that your partner expect too much and being impractical.
- Suggesting that it is time to ask for more pay or simply resign. Or bitch about the boss or company.
Silencing our second conversation is the key action in capturing the third conversation. We need to really pay attention and consciously try very hard to ‘read’ all the clues and signs within the first conversation.
We will need to ask questions, a little probing will help too. Our hearts and minds must be ready and willing.
Those who are able to listen to the third conversation will be better husbands, wifes, siblings, friends, salespeople, bosses, colleagues, etc.
They will also be better citizens, better Malaysians. Let us try the following. What do you think is the third conversation in these examples?
- When the Malays demand their special positions must be respected?
- When the Indians get angry with a word like ‘pariah’ in a novel?
- When the Chinese are angry that they are called pendatang?
- When the Sabahans say that 'Sabahans will show the way'?