Once you get good at identifying other people’s motives, you might be tempted to move from discovery to critique.

“I always knew he was a selfish jerk,” you might think. “That motive is just plain… yuck.” It makes it easy to dismiss someone when we smugly think that we’ve figured them out and that they’re lacking.

Don’t go there. Understanding motives is powerful because they are much closer to the heart of the other person. When we dismiss motives, we’re dangerously close to dismissing the person. And whether you say it out loud or not, dismissiveness says the opposite of “I have your back.”

Instead, here are two questions that can help you stay curious, even when you don’t share the same motives with someone:

  • What about this person’s motives do I find understandable (even if I don’t agree)?
  • What about this person’s motives can I happily support (even if I can’t support 100% of their motives)?

I’m sure you see what this does. It switches our posture from moving away from the other person toward seeking and finding common ground. It keeps you curious, open. And that makes listening possible, even when you don’t 100% share the motives.

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