Active Listening (Part 2): Beating the Faulty Logic Of Mutual Exclusion

A Critical Doer capitalizes on opportunities to be better


 Poor or inexperienced communicators will frequently frame a problem with words that make a situation binary where there are only two choices…only one of them can be correct.  You may recall from a Critical Doer book review on Chip and Dan Heath’s Decisive  that a narrow range of options leads to poor decision making, which in turn limits your capacity for doing.

One of the most frequent logic busts revolves around mutually exclusive events.  As an active listener, you can help break mental logjams through listening for faulty logic application and using the HEAR model from my last post.

Mutually exclusive is defined as follows: if A is true, then B is false.  A coin toss is a classic example of mutually exclusive; if the coin turns up heads, tails is impossible.  In the practical world that is the playground of Critical Doers, things are rarely this cut and dry.  Take this for example.

Problem:  “Mom said I can’t go to the baseball game because my room isn’t clean.”  This is a classic and we’ve all been there.  On the basis of logic, a messy room doesn’t make going to a game impossible.  If you’re listening, what she likely means is that you can’t go unless your room is cleaned.  Lots of possibilities now exist to make both parts of the statement true…which means you get more done.

How about this one:  “To be that successful, her home life must be a wreck.”  Have you ever heard that copout before?  Again, logic doesn’t make being professionally and personally successful mutually exclusive…both can happen simultaneously (great opportunity here to review another post I wrote on listening.)

In each case, an active listener can apply logic to make more options available.  A great way for you to engage a person who is locked into faulty logic with mutual exclusion is to ask this question:  “What needs to change to make both statements true?”  In this question, you’ve just created an avenue to apply the HEAR model and facilitate the other person being able to solve their own problem.  The dialogue will illuminate a natural action plan to change the environment sufficiently which allows the possibility of both events…which will get more done.

Your challenge is to reflect upon a situation at home or work where faulty logic, inertia, or emotion is painting an erroneous picture of mutual exclusion and limiting potential for accomplishment.  Use the critical thinking part of your toolkit to apply sound logic and see if the statements are truly mutually exclusive (they likely aren’t).  Ask the question about environmental factors that need to change, and apply the HEAR model to solve the problem through active listening.  You’ll get more done, and maybe even create a new Critical Doer along the way.

The woods are full of opportunities to solve problems and empower people to do more through active listening so get started today.  It’s what a Critical Doer would…do!


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Updated: April 10, 2015 — 10:07 am