If I learned one thing of real value in all my years handling conflict, it was to listen, usually in silence, often taking notes and then repeating back to the other side in conflict exactly what I thought they were saying. Getting clear about their grievance, their point of view was often half the battle as people may not fully understand their position themselves. And of course asking questions.
This if of course much easier to do in a professional conflict where your personal life is not involved. I have just finished a marvelous book on this topic of listening: ‘The Lost Art of Listening: How Listening Can Improve Your Relationships’ by Michael P Nichols. I strongly recommend you read it and rather than summarize it here, I merely give you the chapter headings to provide a sense of its content.
- Did you hear what I said: why listening is so important
- Thanks for listening: How listening shapes us and connects us to each other
- Why don’t people listen: How communication breaks down
- When is it my turn?: The heart of listening: the struggle to suspend our own needs
- You only hear what you want to hear. How hidden assumptions prejudice listening
- Why do you always overreact? How emotionality makes us defensive.
- Take your time: I am listening. How to let go of your own needs and listen
- I never knew you felt that way. Empathy begins with openness.
- I can see this is really upsetting you. How to defuse emotional re-activity
- We never talk anymore. Listening between intimate partners.
- Nobody around here ever listens to me! How to listen and be heard in the family
- From ‘Do I have to’ to ‘That’s not fair’: Listening to children and teenagers
- I knew you would understand. Being able to hear colleagues and friends
At the end of this book, I felt able to begin to experiment with the approaches suggested in my personal conflict. I think the biggest change, was the realization that my own feelings so often blocked those of others. That to really listen to others, we first have to listen to our own feelings at length, so we don’t mix up our feelings and those of others; and there is space for us to hear the other person’s feelings without automatically joining them in the feelings. This seems obvious and something ‘I always knew’, but it needs constant re-visiting and implementing in daily practice, which is hard.