How to Listen With a Willingness to be Convinced: Public Communication.

 I know, that’s kind of a mouthful, and after the tragedy in Tucson and the President's eulogies at the memorial, topical. But by coincidence, this was the subject of the fourth Community Matters forum last night at the library. We spent the evening learning (or re-learning, or perhaps affirming) how to communicate with civility in public. We were all earnest, and hopeful, and most wore winter boots and several layers and sat on coats draped over chairs sipping hot tea and coffee. So, the main lesson we learned was that to be effective, especially in emotionally charged community meetings (in Haines think discussions on heli-skiing, mining, budget, taxes, zoning etc.) we first must listen to others with a real willingness to be convinced. I would suggest practicing this at the dinner table with people you love first. It is harder than you think. Then try it, at say, a board meeting with people you really like who are all committed to the same good cause you are.  Once you have your new ears on, here’s a few more relatively easy rules we learned regarding communicating in public to try: use honest evidence, reason clearly and know that reasons don't have to be logical to prevail. Be careful of value laden language, it works for praise, but is not so hot for criticism. Accept the response to questions without jumping back up and arguing more. It leads nowhere. Make three points, one is even better, then sit down and give someone else a chance to talk.  Forgive. Then forgive some more. Show up at meetings you don’t have a personal interest in to gain some traction with decision makers. Finally, I would add another one not on our list last night:  be pleasantly persistent. This may be the most difficult. I have concluded at more than one meeting, that my life is too short to spend another second of it in a roomful of people who are making my knees shake and my heart heavy. The trick is not to allow that to happen. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, no one can make you feel bad without your permission. Or as Jesus said, love your enemies.  That’s so hard. It’s why I go to church.  But if we care about community matters at all, we have to learn how stay in the conversation without having a heart attack. What we called civility last night simmers down to good manners. Being polite in public is like yawning, once one person starts, others can’t help themselves.

In other news: Gold Rush Alaska at 6pm (tape it?)  Boys basketball vs. Sitka at home, today and tomorrow, the Girls are on the radio from Sitka (they beat Mt. Edgecumbe last night!), the ice is great on Chilkoot (if you can handle zero weather, the wind is not bad there) and the Alcan 200 snowmachine race is tomorrow up in the pass.


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