Dolphins listen. They have to. Their lives depend on it. Dolphins have evolved over time to have remarkably acute abilities to distinguish a wide variety of frequencies. These skills allow them to interpret danger, safety, and emotions. They can sense the type and size of objects, and most important they understand meaning without visual cues. Imagine if we could learn listen to others the way dolphins listen? Our conflicts would most likely go away.
Since we are not that advanced yet, here are two simple ways to reduce conflict that can create tremendous positive change. Simple does not mean easy though.
- Listen to Learn
“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”
–Stephen R. Covey
Recently I was able to travel to a few places I had never been before. While in Bangkok, Manila, and Jakarta I noticed I was much more alert, more aware and more attentive to all the people around me. I listened. I learned. I was looking. It made me feel safer to do this. Then when I got home I went back to autopilot. I knew the roads, I knew the people, and I stopped focusing on my surroundings, on the people around me.
Often the people we are closest to are the ones that we hurt, or get hurt by the most. Because of the familiarity we feel we can stop being on our “A” game. We know them – they know us. The relationship is not new. We are not being attentive or aware. If our focus is on learning we will listen and we will end up being safer. We can then be safe in our relationships, safe in our dealings, and safe in our responses. When people are safe they often can bypass conflict.
- Use Empathic Statements
This is the proof that you were actually listening. Not just listening for what was said, but listening for the intent and meaning of what was said.
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said”
When someone has a problem, we cannot know how he or she is feeling, we are not they. But we might know what the impact of their situation is having on them. We can learn to restate their issues into sentences that define the impact rather the problem itself. If we give a response that defines the impact rather than the situation it does two things: first, it lets the person know we are actually thinking about what was said. And second, if we are wrong they have the opportunity to correct us and really tell us how they feel. (A good article on the creation and application of Empathetic Statements by Bill Eddy can be found here)
Lao Tzu taught:
“In conflict, be fair and generous.”
While learning to effectively reduce conflict takes lots of practice (of which practice I have too much of – my own fault), by focusing on listening to learn and crafting and incorporating empathetic statements into our conversation habits we can begin to make small, gradual steps in reducing conflict in our personal lives and then begin to help others do the same. Because, in the end, that is all that really matters: our relationships and the value we bring to others.