When I was in high school, I dated a young woman who had big plans for my future. At one point she sensed that God was calling me to be a great evangelist; at another time, a pastor of my own church. She somehow saw in me the raw material for the “godly man” she wanted to marry.

Looking back, I wonder if she ever really knew me. (It wasn’t her fault: I didn’t know me back then either.)

During one of our many phone calls, we fell to talking about some situation that flew right in the face of my limitations. I just couldn’t find my way through the obstacle at hand. She would have none of it. Instead, she quoted to me—loudly—St. Paul’s observation to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

“I don’t know,” I stammered. “I’m more complex than you think—“

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” she boomed.

There’s that talking at again.

In my own rudimentary way, I was in the same space as the people from last week’s post. By saying “I’m more complex than you think,” I was trying to speak from my own perspective, my own experience.

But Girlfriend was speaking at. She was presuming to know my capabilities better than I did. That might have been valid if she’d spoken from a deep knowledge of me. But she didn’t. Instead, she spoke from an external standard, applying it in a way that it was probably never meant to be applied.

Contrast Girlfriend’s approach with a practice from the Quakers. For hundreds of years, they have used a method called the Clearness Committee to discern the voice of their “inner teacher” in the face of life transitions and quandaries. A person assembles five or six trusted people to hear her story and ask her honest, open questions, with no hint of leading or giving advice. The goal is to clear away the person’s mental clutter and thus allow her to hear the inner voice that will guide her toward a resolution.

Totally opposite from talking at. It even goes beyond talking with. It’s listening with. If we aim to dialogue with our “adversaries,” we would do well to listen with—entering their mindsets, thinking as they think, and asking respectful questions. 

When was the last time you were talked at? Have you ever responded well to it? How’d you manage that? When was the last time you were talked with? How was it? Share your experiences in the Comments section below.