Of the many lessons I’ve learned on this unpredictable journey of life, one I’ve had to learn repeatedly is the art of conversation, or more accurately, the art of listening. It’s a lesson I learned not in the grand halls of academia, but in the everyday corridors of my workplace, thanks to Brett.
Brett was a colleague of mine, the kind who could make a kanban board sing and dance. But his real talent, I discovered, lay in something far more subtle and profound. You see, I was a bit of a talker back then, always ready with an opinion, a rebuttal, a ‘well, actually…’ But Brett, he was different. He had this knack for listening that was as rare as a polite conversation on social media.
In our interactions, which often teetered on the edge of my comfort zone, Brett never bulldozed through with his views. Instead, he approached every conversation with the grace of a ballet dancer, tiptoeing around my ego while gently placing his thoughts in the ring. He was like a conversational Houdini, skillfully escaping the shackles of debate and turning our talks into something more akin to a gentle exchange of curiosities.
This approach of his, it was disarming. In the silence that I was unaccustomed to—a silence where I was supposed to listen, not just wait to speak—I found myself in uncharted territory. It was like being handed a map to a land I never knew existed. Here, in this new world, Brett’s curiosity about my views, his knack for asking just the right questions, made me realize that there was something more fulfilling than being the loudest voice in the room.
Over time, Brett’s way of being, his preference for curiosity over judgment, started to seep into my own approach. It was a gradual shift, like slowly turning a ship with a very small rudder. I began to see that there was an art to listening, a skill in making the other person feel heard and valued. Brett, in his quiet, unassuming way, had initiated a change in me without a single debate or argument.
It’s been over a decade since Brett and I shared an office, but the lessons I learned from him remain. He showed me that you don’t win people over with a barrage of facts or by outshouting them. You win them over with empathy, with the quiet strength of understanding and the genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings.
So, for those who—like me—once thought that the pinnacle of conversation was to be the one with the last word, consider trying Brett’s way. It’s not about suppressing your opinions or conceding defeat; it’s about discovering the joy in understanding another person’s perspective, in finding common ground, and perhaps, in the process, learning something new about yourself.
It’s a lesson in humility, in kindness, and—in the end—it’s far more satisfying than any debate could ever be.