Don’t Editorialize, Just Listen

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I recently listened to a contentious exchange between a news anchor and an interviewee. The anchor asked a question and did a little editorializing of their own that really put the person they were talking to on their back foot immediately.

As I listened, it struck me that spouses have a way of doing the same thing with each other. Instead of just coming out and asking their spouse a question, they editorialize it. One spouse reminds the other of something they said years ago that is different from what they are saying in the moment. The spouse on the receiving end is immediately on the defensive because they don’t even remember saying those things. They are just scrambling to recall the conversation.

When spouses engage in this kind of dialogue where one person is editorializing and the other one is scrambling to catch up, it can cause problems. The spouse scrambling wasn’t armed and ready for a battle, so both sides end up losing. The spouse who is on the attack has already made up their mind, leaving little room for really hearing the other person. They just want to win.

What someone might say in the moment could change five hours, five days, or five years down the road. People become wiser, more mature, or the circumstances call for the reevaluation of something.

For example, let’s say a couple had decided before getting married that they wanted to have children soon after their ceremony. A year into their marriage, the husband is ready to start a family, but his wife thinks they should wait another year. She just got a new job, and she wants to establish her career a little more before making such a big change in her life. Her husband gently reminds her about their conversation a few years ago and he attempts to repeat her exact words to her. Of course, without even trying, he is editorializing her comments by his voice inflections and interpretation of what he heard.

Instead of just engaging her in a conversation by exploring why she’s changed her mind, he tries to use her words against her in an attempt to win. Bringing up the past and reminding people of what they said is like asking someone to re-chew food they’ve already eaten. It doesn’t taste good.

If you want to really hear what somebody has to say, ask them directly instead of editorializing their comments. Give them a chance to express themselves and you’ll win more often at home.