conflict coach

A Relationship "Game-Changer" Ah Ha Moment

We are so often like “ships passing in the night” in our conversations. One person and then the other says something. One person and then the other seems to be listening. But, in fact, the sound of voices can be heard but neither party is truly aware of what is being said by the other person. While one person is talking the other is preparing their thoughts about how to respond. Some of us have even learned the art of looking like we are listening when we really aren’t.

As a relationship coach I’ve often talked about “listening actively”. That is, make a huge personal effort to stay engaged and focused on what the other person is saying. I’ve talked about “listening deeply”. That is, listen to the feelings or emotions underlying what is being said. Both types of listening are needed in relationships. When I mediate disputes I promise to each party that they will be listened to and heard!

I’ve been reading Becoming a Conflict Competent Leader by Craig Runde and Tim Flanagan. They share a concept that, when applied is a real game changer in relational stress and conflict. They define “listening to respond” as listening with the focus on and desire to communicate one’s own thoughts and feelings.” Then they discuss “listening to understand” which they define as “listening with the sole intent of comprehending the words, context, and emotions of the speaker”(p.178). I agree with Runde and Flanagan that listening to understand along with perspective taking are two very powerful skills that will usually transform the nature and trajectory of most conflicts.

How can we learn to “listen for understanding”? Listen to what is being said as if you are hearing it for the very first time. Marriage is meant to be a “field of dreams”. Communication should be the adventure of the discovering the awesomeness of the person we are with. Don’t interrupt! Don’t jump to conclusions. Ask questions. Ask for more details. Ask yourself if you can accurately express your partners thoughts and feelings. Go ahead and try it out. Ask your companion if, in fact, you truly understand their viewpoint and feelings.

There are few things in life more difficult than effective communication. When applied, “listening for understanding” will provide a number of “ah ha” moments in your relationship. Blessings to you.

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