When we are in conflict with another it can be difficult, if not impossible to really listen to what the other person is saying. And really, why should we bother listening when we clearly disagree? Yet, we may be making assumptions about what is being said because we are defensive, which can escalate the conflict further. If we are ever going to make progress and reach agreement, we have to listen. Here are three quick tips which can help.
The first step is to calm ourselves. This is really important because until we are calm and centered, not only can’t we hear the other person, it is very difficult to articulate what it is that we want and need. You could ask to take a break, count to 10 (or 20 or 30…), breath deeply a couple of times, think of your happy place, etc. Whatever you do that soothes you, DO IT!
Pretend you’re a reporter
In conflict with someone we know, it is easy to believe we know what they’re going to say before they say it. This often angers the other person which ratchets up the conflict. Instead, tap into your curiosity. Ask open-ended questions (who, what, why, when, where) in a neutral tone of voice. Listen deeply for the interests and needs this person is expressing and those things you may not have heard before. After all, listening doesn’t mean you agree, you’re just collecting information.
Clarify what you’ve heard
Repeat back to the person you are listening to what you’ve hear. Saying something like, “Let me see if I got what you’re say…” makes it clear that you are seeking to understand. Again, understanding does not equal agreement, but the person speaking is going to be a lot more likely to hear what you have to say if she or he thinks you understand them.
When it’s too tough to talk directly with one another, a mediator can help. Having someone who is trained to facilitate conversations without choosing sides can increase the chances you will be able to hear one another and make progress. If you’re having a hard time with a specific person or a theme has emerged in your conflicts, a conflict coach can help. Having someone support you in your efforts to better deal with conflict can help you try new approaches and offer tips on how to have more successful results.