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Oct 30

4/6 ‘Reflective Listening’ is Important in Conflict Solutions?

We continue our series on the importance of good communication when facing Conflict solutions.  So far we have tqalked about the need to really listen to others to hear the underlying issues.  We brought up the topic of biases and jugdements that hinder discussions. 

Then, in our last post, we presented 12 very comment Road Blocks to Communication with others.  Now we continue with the concept of ‘Reflective’ or Active Listening in Conflict Solutions.

Remember our example of the discussion between Jacko and Chelsea over how to spend their day together from post 4/2?  I have repeated the story here:

One example is the ‘discussion’ between Chelsea and Jacko as they prepared to spend a day together.  Starting with their breakfast at their favourite eating place, Jacko suggested they visit mutual friends – because he knew they had a very large screen TV.  He knew his friend would be watching the footy match!

Chelsea had other ideas: “Maybe a day at the beach or see a movie?”  Her expectation would be a romantic day together.  His was to do what?  Neither took time to hear the underlying message from the other.  The day ended up with neither satisfied in what they wanted to do.”

Learning how to really listen means to stop and see between the words.  Knowing how to do this means you are a better listener.  This is especially important when you are trying to find a Solution to Conflicts.  I am sure that anyone can benefit from learning how to ‘read between the lines’ as one author put it.

A.  What is Reflective Listening?

People are sending us clues about what they are feeling and thinking every time they speak.  Non-verbal patterns make up a large part of hearing what’s being said.  Children, especially have trouble putting their feelings into words to share why they have said what they have just said.  We need to practice looking for these hidden clues about these feelings to really hear the message being sent, not only with children but with others also.

B.  Reflective Listening Skills include 4 main areas:

1.  Listening to nonverbal behaviour. 

We look for the messages that the person ‘leaks’ while they are sharing with us.  Use these messages to confirm or deny what the person is saying, adding more information.

Picking up the verbal messages, helping them sort through issues.  This means listening to the person in context with all other information they give.  It also means keeping an open ‘tough mindedness’, watching for their blind spots and unclear, confusing statements.

2.  Hearing with Empathy

Empathy means to communicate your understanding of what is being shared.  We use empathy to: build the relationship, stimulate self-exploration, to check understanding, to provide support, lubricate communication, focus attention where needed, contain the length of the message and to pave the way for solutions.

Empathy shows a willingness to get behind the clients’ messages, to see ‘the story behind the story’.  Empathy focuses on useful probing skills and on seeing the used and unused resources.

3. Listen with Openness

We all have trouble setting aside our judgments and opinions.  But we cannot learn new things, if we are locked into finding fault or stereotyping people.  Openness is setting aside our prejudices and hearing what the other person is saying.

4.  Using probing questions. 

This is one big area that Chelsea and Jacko need to know.  By listening ‘deeper’ and rephrasing the statements made to each other, their disappointing day would not have happened.  This skill includes:

a. Making statements that encourage the person to further explore and clarify the topic and expand an area of discussion.

“So you want to go and visit Mark and Josie because …..”

b.  Use interjections that help then to focus, “I see”, “And ….?”

“OK, this is a possibility.”

c.  Ask questions that help the person talk more freely and concretely.

“Any idea what Mark and Josie have planned for today?”

d.  Ask questions that serve a purpose, but not too many questions.

“Do you think they have other plans than us dropping by….?

e.  Ask open-ended questions that help that person talk about specific experiences, behaviours and feelings versus closed statements.

“…and while we’re there, what do you think we’ll do….?”

f.  Ask questions that help someone get into the stages expanding their willingness to change.

“Doesn’t Mark usual keep Saturdays for his footy match?”

g.  Sorting through and identify themes, especially self-defeating ones.

“Can you imagine if we interrupted his day by expecting him to visit with us….?”

h.  To make further connections between insights and actions.

“So maybe you want to visit with them to …. watch the footy match on their TV while Josie and I do what…..?”

This gives the space to be corrected if we haven’t heard the real message.

By clarifying Jacko’s real intentions out in the open, Chelsea might agree to spending the afternoon with her good friend, Josie …. and leave Jacko and Mark to their game.  However, because neither had learned good communication skills, they ‘bargained’ away their day and neither were happy with the results.  It ended in a ‘lose-lose’ kind of day for both rather than being honest and open in their decision making.

This Conflict Solution skill is called ‘Using Clear Expressions’ in resolving Conflicts before they happen.  It is the topic of our next post!

We all can practice using Reflective, Active listening when talking with others.  Often, hearing between what is said and what is meant can mean the difference in saving a relationship and losing a friend.  This is especially true when working together to resolve a conflict.

In our next post, we shall look at in Conflict Solutions.

Susanne Fengler. Blog Author

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