Imagine a moment in a debate where a Democratic candidate responds to a Republican candidate (or vise versa) with something like “Let me see if I understand your point” and then reflects back what she heard. What would our world look like right now if politicians worked to understand the issues and the multiple perspectives involved rather than crafting snappy soundbites to make headlines and “be right?” What if liberals and conservatives were listening to each other and saying things like “tell me more.”
And how often do we non-politicians listen carefully in our own relationships — at work and at home — when we are frustrated, annoyed, overwhelmed, impatient, or just plain convinced that we already have the answer? How many times have we created more problems by shutting down or firing up when we were triggered?
Neural hot spots. This is what I call the networks in my nervous system that are activated when something really gets under my skin. One of my triggers is when people drive slower in the left lane than cars are traveling on their right. It is nutty how much this bothers me. When I see it, my hands tighten on the steering wheel, a curse word forms on my lips, and I want to glare at the driver so they can see my disgust as I pass on the right.
I have no idea why this feels like such a big deal — I am sure that these people on my left are perfectly wonderful family members and coworkers who contribute to their community. The point is that every human has their own neural hotspots. They may be really intense or very mild (more like neural warm spots).
And, just for sake of balance and humility, it is important to keep in mind that you trigger others. We all do. All of us get triggered by others and all of us are triggers for others. There is no one who is neutral in this whole deal. Being triggered and triggering others are just non-removable aspects of life. We can work with this reality skillfully or we can keep pretending it shouldn’t be the case.
We may respond by pouting, yelling, or arguing. We may respond by interrupting, offering solutions, or even by agreeing. If we are not aware when an impulse is triggered by something happening in the environment, then we will respond automatically. Sometimes our automatic response is fine. Sometimes it does not work. And sometimes it makes a mess.
So, how do we listen to someone else when all me we want is to “win” or fix (or punch) the other person? How do we listen when what we really want to do is run away screaming? We use “tell me more.”
“Tell me more” is magic. It can change the tone of a conversation. It can allow you to get information and explore a perspective that would otherwise never be unearthed. “Tell me more” can create the time and space for neural hotspots to cool as you shift down from Defcon 4. “Tell me more” can allow you to connect with people even in the moments when you are triggered.
There are three fundamental needs that all humans have — we need to be safe, we need to belong, and we need to matter. In the moment when you use “tell me more” sincerely, you give others a sense of all three. And a large body of research shows that listening sincerely and kindly lengthens your healthspan.
Try this: the next time your spouse, partner, child, colleague, barista, friend, or Uber driver tells you about something — feel the urge to interrupt, agree, argue, change the subject, offer a solution, etc… and let it pass. Then, look them in the eyes, and kindly invite them to tell you more. See what happens next.