Listen for resolution
This is the fourth in our series of blogs on the art of listening. It supports our October listening challenge #shutupandlisten where we encourage our network to really listen and explore the power that listening gives us all.
In the quiet presence of your attention, respect and ease, important things can happen for the person thinking. Fresh ideas can emerge; confusion can dissipate; painful feelings can subside; creativity can explode [Nancy Kline]
We live in interesting times with friends and family holding different views to our own. I don’t know about you but sometimes I often find myself listening with the intention of challenging what is being said. I am listening out for things that fit in with my perception and picking up on information that will add fuel to my response. I think it’s natural – we are questioning individuals with our own thoughts. However, how about if we listen – not with the intention of how it affects us – but with the intention of simply allowing the speaker to speak. It’s a generous act, being quiet while the person you are listening to is given freedom to explore and voice what they have to say.
We are conditioned to create 2-way dialogue, me to you, you to me. Our responses show we understand, that we care enough to ask questions, to empathise through our own experiences. Yet somehow it’s quite frustrating waiting for our turn, choosing our moment to interject, leaving the other person not quite finished. It's also very frustrating for the person who is interrupted - it disrupts their flow and ability to think. Much of this frustration leaves us when we step back and listen.
When someone talks in times of conflict and disagreement - particularly pertinent at the moment - we actually often don’t want to listen. We want to get our own point across – cutting straight through the things being said that make us angry, sad, upset or that we oppose. Voices can be raised, language might become more colourful and all of our senses are on red alert. Our hackles might be raised and we could be considering fight or flight reactions.
Listening during any disagreement is probably the most difficult thing you can do. To stay focused, to maintain eye contact, to not respond until the person you are with has finished is a huge ask. It takes strength and determination.
At some point the person you are listening to will stop. It’s at this point that you can choose how to respond – take up the chalice and fight back – or pick out parts of the information you have received to create a compromise or at the very least some understanding of their perception. “I hear you, I understand where you are coming from - however I don’t entirely agree with you” is much better than a slanging match – we’ve all been there!
Listening to find common ground and listening without confrontation will help you to find the touch points between you that could potentially build the bridges of compromise until a reasonable resolution is reached. In a work situation you could note down these points as they are made, whilst listening, and revisit them together. However - this approach might be considered a little strange in a personal conversation - I have known a friend's husband to recap and write down the key 'take aways' of a conversation, it didn't go down well. Note to self, quite literally!
Some points to help with listening for resolution:
Listen to gain information and detail
Register any emotions being shown by either party – anger, sadness, confusion…
Make notes - only if appropriate
Keep an open mind – the speaker may resolve the situation with little intervention – just by voicing and considering their thoughts
Don’t impose or offer solutions, let the person figure it out for themselves – either there and then or in their own time. Just talking aloud can be the catalyst to later reflection
Don’t assume what the speaker will say and never finish their sentence for them
You could ask if the person would like to know what you would do in their situation
Reframe complaints or moans by creating a positive version of what is being said – ‘I am sick of doing everything in this office’ can be represented as ‘I understand you’d like to set some new ground rules for your role, how about you explain what they are’
Reframe: A KEY opportunity to describe what you believe the other person really wants, which can lead to thinking about constructive solutions to problems. Use neutral language, or err on the side of more positive statements [University of Michigan]
Sometimes, especially during conflict, the very act of listening could be all that is needed to make the person speaking feel valued and understood. It may be that an actual resolution isn’t possible there and then but the act of declaring your position – with someone actually listening – is a huge step forward.
Genuine listening has become a rare gift—the gift of time. It helps build relationships, solve problems, ensure understanding, resolve conflicts, and improve accuracy. At work, effective listening means fewer errors and less wasted time. At home, it helps develop resourceful, self-reliant kids who can solve their own problems. Listening builds friendships and careers. It saves money and marriages [Forbes]
Although October is done and our challenge is over, we would urge you to continue to explore listening and its amazing powers. Our series of articles on the subject will continue in the future. For now though, let your speaker speak! #shutupandliste