active listening

A Simple Listening Technique for Conflict Resolution

Most of us dread being in conflict with others. When conflicts arise in our lives, they often do not go well. The prospect of strong disagreement, of raised voices and heated arguments bring frustration and distress for both sides. It's remarkable how this can change when we take the time to listen to each other. The trouble is that, we often find this hard to do in the middle of a conflict, so I'm going to show you a very simple way to structure into your conversation a method that will insure that both sides listen to the other and that both sides end up being heard and understood. First, you need to set some ground rules. Here they are:

  • Each person has as much time as they need to present their point of view without being interrupted by the other person.
  • When they are finished speaking, they will ask the person listening to summarize what they have just said. Nothing can proceed beyond this point, until the person speaking is satisfied that the summary they are hearing is a fair and accurate representation of their point of view.
  • Once they are satisfied, the roles are reversed and the other person speaks without being interrupted by the other.
  • And again, when they are done speaking, they ask the other person to summarize what they have just said.
  • And again, nothing proceeds beyond this point, until the person who has just spoken feels satisfied that the other person is representing their point of view fairly and accurately.

If you want to try this out, you may find the other person is more receptive to the idea if you volunteer to let them go first and speak their point of view. You'll demonstrate to them the sincerity and integrity of your proposal by listening to them without interrupting them and then you'll summarize their point of view in a manner that leaves them satisfied that they have been heard and understood. Notice that this will be easier for you to do, if you are able to let go of your agenda and the outcome of the conflict.

This technique structures into your process, listening on both sides – something that rarely happens in conflicts.

Living a Zen-inspired life will greatly increase your ability to listen to others. It will help you be fully present in the moment without a strong attachment to the outcome. We teach many more useful and practical communication tools in our Core Curriculum classes at the Zen Life & Meditation Center of Chicago. If you are interested, you can sign up for the Primer 1 class. The next one begins on Tuesday, August 3rd from 7:00 to 8:30 pm.  Register by calling 708.445.1651 or online by clicking here.

If you've already done something like this, or you try this technique in a conflict, please comment on this blog and let me know what it was like for you.

Robert Althouse

Active Listening

ury"The need for listening is obvious, yet it is difficult to listen well, especially under the stress of an ongoing negotiation. Listening enables you to understand their perceptions, feel their emotions, and hear what they are trying to say. Active listening improves not only what you hear, but also what they say. If you pay attention and interrupt occasionally to say, 'Did I understand correctly that you are saying that . . . ?' the other side will realize that they are not just killing time, not just going through a routine. They will also feel the satisfaction of being heard and understood. Standard techniques of good listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other party to spell out carefully and clearly exactly what they mean, and to request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty. Make it your task while listening not to phrase a response, but to understand them as they see themselves. Take in their perceptions, their needs, and their constraints."

from Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury