Listening to understand

October 28, 2019 Sandra Dawes

About 20 years ago, after graduating with my undergraduate degree, I did what many new grads do – I went back to school! 😉 I often think that my certificate in dispute resolution has been one of the most useful programs I have taken to-date. There are many of the skills that I learned in that one-year program that I incorporate in my life on a regular basis, even though I don’t work as a mediator.

One of the things we learned in the program was active listening. If you’ve done any type of team-building training, you’ve probably learned about active listening. It’s all about listening to gain clarity and understanding of the other person’s point of view, rather than listening to respond.

When we practice active listening, we re-frame and rephrase the things the other person said to make sure we understand where they are coming from. Obviously, this is really important when dealing with conflict. The ability to understand what the other person’s concerns are is the first step to finding a solution that all parties can feel good about.

When we’re having an issue with someone, we can fall into the trap of defending our position and looking for proof and justification for our stance. This makes it much harder to resolve the problem and move forward in a productive way. Being defensive about our position can lead us to focus on proving ourselves right and the other person wrong instead of looking for a solution.

The ability to separate the person from the problem can be a challenge. It can be hard to differentiate between the opposing position and the person holding it. The reality is that the only way a resolution can be found is when we stop making it personal and look for a solution that makes sense to all parties.

Listening to understand is the quickest way to find a solution that is a win-win for everyone. Instead of arguing about who’s position is right, we take the time to listen to the other persons point of view and then share our own. When we can focus on the issues and take the personal out of it, clarity comes a lot easier.

It can be quite humbling to shut up and listen, but it is necessary. As someone who loves a good debate, it took me a long time to learn that it was okay to have a conversation with someone about a controversial issue without converting them to my way of thinking 😉 Instead of finding different ways to prove others wrong, I listen. I might not always agree, but I find it interesting to understand other points of view, even when I don’t agree with them.

Listening to understand isn’t just a skill to use when trying to resolve a conflict. It can prevent conflicts from happening in the first place. We often miss things because we aren’t really listening to what others are saying. We hear the words that are coming out of their mouths, but we don’t understand the message they are trying to convey. When we improve our listening and understanding of others, things start to shift in a good way. Who doesn’t want that?

How will you be a better listener this week?

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