Want to Know vs Want to Win: Learning to Listen

I had a whole, long thing in my head about a topic, and then brilliant thinker who I follow from afar summed it up in 140 characters:

This made me think a lot about conversation, power, and intention though, especially in the context of my own classroom. A lot of times, we taught to enter into (perhaps difficult) conversations by asking questions: why do you think that? What makes you say that? How did you come to that conclusion? etc.

I’ve come to realize, though, that sometimes people are entering into the conversation differently than I am, and sometimes, as teachers, it’s easy to default into a line of questioning that is not helpful. This leads me to ask (often myself):

Are you asking because you want to know? Or are you just asking because you want to win?


I acknowledge that fighting for the sake of fighting (or perhaps “debating for the sake of debating”) is fine. Some people love that, and I think that it can be really great. My boyfriend loves a good debate, and is the type of guy who watches Fox News just to feel riled up and be incensed at people. If that’s your thing, that’s cool.

But just because you love that doesn’t mean the other person does, and it’s important to think about that other person. Empathy matters! It’s important to respect the other person if they decide they’re not about where this conversation goes. It’s not because they’re “weak” or “scared,” they might just not be the type of person who wants to go 10 rounds for the hell of it.

My issue with it in a lot of cases though is that it I feel like rarely leads to sharing or increase of knowledge. If you are debating or asking questions just for the sake of pushing buttons, you’re not really listening to the other person. So, instead of actually taking the time to process what they’re saying or trying to hear the opinion, you’re only listening to them so you can come up with you’re next argument, so you can find the best way to poke holes in them so you can win your points.

That’s fine, I suppose. If your purpose is to win all points and ruffle some feathers (yours and your opponents), then do you. But I don’t know if it’s the best way to lead to actual conversation and intellectual growth.


Here is where it comes back to the classroom, though. As teachers, we are always in positions of power and privilege over our students. No matter how smart my students are, I am the adult in the room. I am the one (theoretically) guiding this class, and in charge.

So when I want to have a discussion with my students, I HAVE to be asking myself: am I asking them because I really want to know? Or am I asking them because I’m right and their wrong?

Clearly, the latter has some of its merits. Guiding questions can be a good way to question students and let them find their own way to the answer while providing some clues for them to follow. But I think as a teacher it’s very easy to fall into that type of questioning even when there is no real right answer, or students can be pushed to think outside the box.

If I want my students to truly reflect on something, I shouldn’t be trying to score points of them, or only half-listening because I want to prove MY point, I should be actually listening to themDoing so might lead not only to them teaching something to teach other, but teaching something to me too.

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