The saying seek first to understand, then to be understood especially applies when you find yourself in conflict with another person. Seems impossible, but the next time you find yourself in a heated conflict step back and begin to listen to your opponent rather than argue your position. Yes, listening can help remove the communication barricade the two of you built. In fact listening has proven to be one of the most effective communication tools in conflict. Deep or genuine listening is both a skill and a discipline that is not easy to master, but can be learned.
Genuine listening helps to transform the conflict. Trust is at the core of most conflicts and listening helps to build trust which typically is damaged or absent in conflicts. Listening prevents you from making the other person the enemy or the target of your emotions. Listening communicates to the other person that you care and that they matter. Regardless if you view their opinion as wrong, you are communicating that they have a voice and a right to have an opinion.
Brian Muldoon, author of The Power of Listening and founder of communications website http://www.workwithheart.com explains,
It is not necessary that we agree or sympathize with our enemy, but it is foolish not to understand him, when we cut ourselves off from our natural tendency to feel compassion for others, including our enemy, we reduce our effectiveness because we insulate ourselves from valuable information. Conflict polarizes us, so it is not surprising that we rarely see the whole picture.
He states furthermore that it is during these times that it is all the more important to try to understand the other person through listening. This enables us to see the whole picture of the situation rather than a distorted view as seen through our emotions and sense of rightness. Deep listening may not remove the points or issues of disagreement, but it can help to temper the emotions.
I know for myself that I am much more adept at dealing with conflict when I am operating from a rational mindset as opposed to a reactive one. People communicating from a reactive or emotional position during conflict tend to shut down or escalate. Listening enables us to move from the reactive to the reflective brain.
Why is it so difficult to listen? I have observed that as humans we seem to have some innate response to defend, argue, or justify our position before we can discipline ourselves to listen to the other person. I also have observed that when people are willing to listen thoughtfully, reflectively, and patiently to the other person – minds and hearts open and true communication begins.
So, the next time you find yourself in a conflict – ask yourself – Are you really listening?