One of the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is to "Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood." The idea is that before we can fix a problem, we have to understand what's going on. This involves empathetic listening, which is a skill that the majority of us have not cultivated very well.
I know that I have long been in the habit of listening with the intention of replying rather than understanding. My empathy is too often limited to relating someone else's experience to my own. But sometimes, I cannot see where my experience and the other person's experience intersect. It is as if we are from different planets, or maybe even different galaxies!
This is where the empathetic listening comes into play. The times when our opponent's point-of-view seems the most foreign and far-fetched are precisely the times when we must seek to understand first.
I'm far from perfect at this skill but I'm working on it. It's especially hard for me to try to see things from the perspective of those who disagree with what I consider matters of human dignity and respect. Ironically, I have trouble affording those who disagree the dignity and respect that they fail to show others. So I was particularly impressed by this letter from a librarian to a patron who didn't want the library to have a children's book with a gay wedding on the shelf. This librarian's letter is a model for the level of understanding that I hope to someday attain.