How Listening Impacts Conflict


If someone disagrees with us – part of the frustration in the conflict comes from feeling like the other person doesn’t understand. They are not listening.

Lack of listening of either side escalates conflict. Before you tell them you disagree or make your point again, a small bit of listening will go a long way to increase understanding and reduce conflict.

Jim Haynes, former NYC policeman, sees it this way. Jim worked for 13 years in law enforcement on the streets on New York. He dealt with drug dealers, prostitutes, gambling, and domestic disputes across cultures and neighborhoods.

I asked him, “What is the secret to effective policing and de-escalating conflict? Is it force? Is it psychology? Is it fear?”

Whether dealing with an angry tenant or a psychotic claiming his mother is a Russian Spy, he says the secret is “Listen. Mirror what people are saying. Try from the beginning to be understanding and kind. It calms people down. Once you start to act like a tough guy, you can’t go back and be understanding – it is too late.”

So how can you do this?

First, focus on the other person. In today’s busy world of 100 emails a day, multiple projects and a lot to do, everyone is stressed. Help yourself focus by looking at them, taking notes , turn away from the computer, shut off your monitor, close email. Focus your attention on THEM not you.

Then,remember that there are always multiple levels of communication going on – the words, the tone of voice and body language. Words are easiest, but even then you can be misled. Voice Tone is not so much up for interpretation, but it is still important. For example I can so “Yeah, right” (say it with a positive agreeable tone. And I can say “Yeah, right” (say it with an attacking, sarcastic tone) – the same words and the change of tone makes a big difference. So it is important to pay attention to the tone.

And finally body language. The same is true for many body postures. They can have multiple meanings. A good thing to keep in mind is the change of a body posture. For example, if we are talking and then in the middle I fold my arms, THAT means some things has probably changed. That is something to pay attention to – the CHANGE of body posture and body language.

Most importantly, explore their point of view. What are they talking about? Why do they believe what they do? Ask sincere question to understand in order to:
1. Get more information on their point of view
2. Communicate you care about how they see things
3. To move from emotion laden part of brain to rationale side

Some phrases to use to explore their point of view are asking questions:

“Why do you think that?”

“What makes you feel that way?”

“What happened to give you that impression?”
What did I say that led you to that conclusion?

You can also paraphrase what you heard to make sure you understand their point of view correctly by saying things such as:

It sounds like you are saying….

Do you mean…..

Let me make sure I understand you….you said

This was first published in our book Perfect Phrases for Conflict Resolution (McGraw-Hill)


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