Learning Conflict Resolution Begins With Listening

Time for your first lesson in butting heads


In conflict resolution the ability to express ourselves without blaming or accusing another person of something is the first part of being able to more quickly come to a resolution. The second part is to be able to listen closely. In any conversation that requires clear communication, being able to express ourselves and listen to the expression of others.  This can be difficult because really there are 6 different identities involved.

  • Person A  the real self
  • Person B the real self
  • Person A – the way they see themselves
  • Person B – the way they see themselves
  • Person A – the way they see Person B
  • Person B – the way they see Person A

The most important of these 6 selves is how you are seen by the other person. If we are to come to a resolution of any conflict, we must first be able to listen to the other party and understand what they see in us, how they are hearing our messages.In regard to impact the words we say are not as important as other factors. This is how it breaks down:

  • Only 7-10% of what is heard by the other person is the actual content of what we are saying.
  • 33-40% is the impact of our voice, how fast we are talking, the tone of our voice, the pitch and the inflection of our voice.
  • 50-60 % of what is heard is done with non-verbals, facial expressions, gestures and other body language.

It is easy to see why we may feel that we are not understood. The two most important factors when we are listening or speaking is the way the other person perceives us by our verbal and non verbal impact.

Active Listening Improves All Relationships

all-earsEvery time we talk about listening I have to admit to my students that this is a skill that I am still working on personally. The first reminder is that we listen to either learn, understand, or for enjoyment. What we hear and then remember is less than you might think (there is no real scientific studies on this that I could find) some saying 10% and others up to 50%.   I believe either of these numbers may be high for some people. Is it any wonder that we have misunderstandings, rifts in relationships and directions that are not followed through on?

It is most likely that you have heard of “active listening”, as it is taught by most leadership instructors and talked about by most counselors. This is when you not only hear the words the other person is saying, but you get the message they are sending to you. Occasionally nodding your head or other gestures lets them know that you are still involved in the conversation. There is more!

denial-edit2Putting aside your own thoughts, how you might present a rebuttal, why this person is wrong allows us the mental capacity to listen, not just to their words, but their body language too. Your goal is to get the whole message and feeling that this person is trying to get across to you. Being able to respond in a way that shows empathy and understanding of the persons thoughts and feelings can only happen if you hear the words and emotions as shown in the whole person.

It is very easy to discourage the speaker from telling their story with your body language, by giving attention to others in the room, or if you are not encouraging them with small verbal comments or even a question or two, showing your interest in understanding. In the end you may want to ask questions to be sure the meaning of their words matches the meaning that you heard. Before asking those kind of questions though, give the speaker the opportunity to complete their thought – otherwise they may lose their thought process.

These listening skills are appropriate for the workplace, for spouses and for children. No matter the speaker, we want to feel like we were heard and responded to respectfully. When we do not get that feeling, it is very easy to shut down or not tell the whole story. The process of listening takes a lot of concentration and determination. Old habits are hard to break, but doing so will strengthen your ability to be a leader and all of your relationships.

Teaching Listening Skills Builds Peace in the Family and Classroom

All parents and teachers must believe that the work they are doing with their children and students will create the qualities that we value the most. You might ask yourself, “What qualities do I value the most in my own life and how am I teaching my children these values?”  In my own experience I believe that we will never change the personality of our children but our mission as parents and teachers is to pass on to our children values, morals and ethics.

At Balanced Life Skills we value compassion, awareness and respect. I believe that if we can become aware of our affect on situations and others, if we are mindful of our affect we can then demonstrate compassion and respect. As we follow through on these, we will be building peace, in ourselves, our community and the world.

Learning to listen, actively listen, is one of the cornerstones to building awareness, compassion and respect. Teaching good listening skills begins with us modeling active listening skills. Here are a few tips in good listening:

  • Listen without interrupting a child
  • Suspend your own thoughts
  • Empathize with what is being said
  • Non verbal language by nodding, leaning in to the speaker
  • Avoid looking around (or at your phone / computer)

If you’re a teacher with a large class of students you may want to have a sign that indicates that you need their attention, along with the words “Please look at me” or something similar. Teach your students if they are addressing the class, to use the same words and signs to gain the classes attention. This empowers the student speaking and the feelings of respect are being developed.

In the coming weeks look for our curriculum on Listening Skills as a part of the Balanced Life Skills Way for all of our students.

Fairness: Listening to the whole story

Teaching children about listening is more than just getting them to listen to us as their parent or teacher.  If we would like to help them to develop good leadership skills, then we must also teach them to listen to the whole story.  Listening to the whole story prior to coming to a conclusion will save ourselves from embarrassment and our relationships with others.  Here is one way we may be able to do that.

To start conversations with a child you may want to use what I call, “What if”  questions.  “What if I walked into the room and I saw _______standing in the middle of a big mess?”  Who would I might think made the mess?  If I saw that I might want to say to ________ “clean up!”  Is that fair?  Would it not be a better question to ask, “what happened?”  and hear the whole story?  We may find out that someone else made the mess, or that the person was in the middle of cleaning up the mess.  Listening makes things fair.

Practicing this ourselves and taking the time to help our children see how and why we ask such questions will help them to do the same as they come into situations with their friends.