When Listening is Most Difficult

Ears pluggedLast week I looked at listening as foundational to a healthy relationship. If you are to have and maintain healthy relationships at any level, you must learn to be a good listener.

Listening is most challenging during conflict. In such cases emotions run high, with anger being the dominant. When emotions run high, reason can hardly prevail. And without reason rising above emotions, conflict escalates, often leading to serious consequences for all involved. Many times in the middle of a conflict you may have heard the phrase, “You are not listening to me!” Or perhaps you used it yourself.

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful if we all could learn how to be good listeners during a conflict? I want to suggest ways in which you can become a better listener during a conflict, so that you can reduce the chance of being emotionally hijacked and make more room for reason to prevail. This should help you resolve the conflict in a healthy and helpful manner.

As the listener in a conflict, you have to take some steps to be a good listener when emotions are running high. But how?

  1. Give the speaker your undivided attention. Remove anything that has the potential to become a distraction. Turn off your phone. Avoid eating, watching television or listening to music. Let the person know they have your undivided attention by making eye contact. Seek to minimize, if not eliminate, all other potential distractions that might draw away attention from the speaker.
  2. Give feedback. The best way to do this is by paraphrasing what you are hearing the speaker say; that is, use your words to say back to the speaker what you are hearing them say. This is to ensure that you understand what the speaker is saying, while at the same time letting the speaker know that you get what they are saying. Feedback goes a long way in helping to avoid misunderstandings.
  3. Pay attention to the non-verbal cues so that you can get the full meaning of what the speaker is saying. Tone of voice and facial expressions are important. The tone of voice in which something is said and the accompanying facial expression convey more meaning than the words themselves. Ask about the tone and facial expressions if they are not in line with what is being said or you need clarification. For example, you might say, “You’re telling me you are OK with this situation, but you are scowling and your voice is raised.”

As the speaker in a time of conflict you can do some things that will make listening easier for those involved in the conflict.

  1. Put the listener at ease. Thank the person for wanting to resolve the conflict. We have the tendency to go straight to trying to resolve the conflict without taking time to thank the person(s) for also trying to resolve the conflict.

In addition, identify the positives that already exist in the relationship, and affirm why resolving the conflict is important you. Let them know you respect and value them.

  1. Make sure your listener is understanding what you are saying. If you want to make listening easier, avoid assumptions. Do not be afraid to ask your listener if they are understanding what you are saying or if they need further explanation.
  2. Non-verbal communication should be consistent with your spoken words. Be aware of your tone of voice and facial expressions, even when you are saying the most painful thing in the conflict. Your goal is to create consistency with communication for your listeners.

Being a good listener during a conflict can be very difficult but it’s not impossible. It will require you to be responsible enough to avoid letting emotions hijack the conflict and to let reason prevail by practicing good listening.

Think of a conflict in which you have been involved. Would being a better listener have resulted in a different and better resolution? What might you have said differently to help reason override emotions?

The next time you are in a situation of conflict, try using the steps above to be a better listener and help reach a resolution.

If you would like help in achieving your goals in any area of your life, call us at 208-880-0307 or email us at errol@errolcarrim.com to schedule a complimentary coaching session. To read Errol’s other posts, visit Christ-Centered Life Coaching.

Photo credit: alex_bergerr / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA