Active Listening to Avoid Conflict

Article contributed by guest author Grant Herbert.

Do you fail to listen, interrupt, or always find fault in what others say, or do you welcome mutual understanding by listening intently and allowing the sharing of information?

One of the most powerful skills that we can all have is genuine listening. It’s the key to effective communication. And for healthy relationships, it’s important to hear everything that’s being said and to be a tuned into what’s not being said so that we get the full picture and we’re able to interact and have mutually beneficial communication. This is one of the most important ingredients in Empathy.

When we get this skill to where it’s going to help us and give us a triple win, a win for us, a win for them, and a win for the greater good, we are not only interested in what we have to say and what our opinion is, but we’re open to what the other person or people have to say. And we filter that information in our logical brain to make sure that we have the entire picture to avoid misunderstanding and to avoid conflict.

Well, we’re still learning to do this well. We might be someone who interrupts all the time, where we’ve got our own agenda and we’re pushing that, and we’re not really all that interested in fully listening to what the other person’s saying. We might be giving the opinion that we are listening with our ears, but our body language and our response and reaction says that we aren’t really interested.

When we do this, we’re able to have conversations that are effective, that are mutually beneficial, and that allow us to be involved with Compassionate Empathy; to not just understand, but to be a part of the solution as well. 

So, let’s talk about some of the things that we are listening for. As we’ve already said, we’re listening to what’s being said, we’re also listening to what’s not being said. We’re listening to what’s not congruent, what doesn’t seem to add up. A lot of times, I’ll be having conversations or I’ll be communicating and what I’m saying here isn’t lining up to what I said here, and that creates confusion.

We listen for what’s needed, what’s missing, and we listen to what their goals are, what they want to achieve. By actively listening, we can also be attuned to what their strengths are so that we know where we can add value and where they’re doing okay.

So, let me give you three key tips that you can use to help you to be a more active listener and therefore, have more effective communication.

Number one, set aside your own agenda. When we have our own agenda out front, we’ve got all this noise and all this clamour going on in our mind. So, even though we are doing our best to listen, we’re not hearing. We’re filtering it through our own agenda. So, the best thing that we can do is to be totally focused on them, set aside our own agenda, and listen fully and be fully present. 

Number two is to avoid jumping in. A lot of times when I was learning to be a better communicator, someone would be talking and they could tell that all I was doing was waiting for them to take a breath so that I could jump in. I’d be trying to jump in and go, “Yeah, okay.” And every time they said a point, I’d have something to counter it with or something to add. 

So, when we avoid jumping in and leave the conversation open and collect the information in a logical way, not collecting it in a way that’s comparing it to what our beliefs are, we’re able to get the full picture. 

And number three is to reflect back what you heard. Remember last week, we talked about the communication process, being someone who is a sender, encoding their message, and sending it to a receiver. The receiver receives that information through the noise and then they decode what they thought they were communicated. And that’s where the confusion can come in.

What they then do is they encode their reaction or their response and they send it back through the noise to the original sender who is now the receiver, who decodes what they think they heard. The challenge with all that is we can make assumptions. We can think that we heard this and therefore make a belief around that, give that a meaning when in fact it may not be what was said at all.

So, by reflecting back what we think we heard, we were able to get clarification and or confirmation so that we can then move forward effectively; simple phrases like, “So, what I heard you say was…,” and then repeating what you thought they said. Now, this can be done, whether it’s verbally or whether it’s written text.

And that gives the person that you’re communicating with the opportunity to go, “Yes, that’s exactly what I said,” or give clarity and either go deeper to give further understanding or go, “No, that’s not what I meant at all. This is what I meant.” 

So, when we use these three tips, when we actively listen and we do it without assumption, we do it without jumping in, and we reflect to get clarity and confirmation, we take out all the misunderstanding and all the conflict. Active listening is a crucial component of Empathy, and one of the competencies that we teach in the work that we do in Social and Emotional Intelligence. 

Listen to the podcast here: https://youtu.be/xIxfZUKAb1o

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