Listening as a Tool to De-escalate Conflicts

Listening intently

 

Recently, I read this statement: “They keep yelling at me that I’m not listening.” I would love to give credit to the person who said it, but I’ve lost the source. I think I saw it as a tweet in my twitter stream. I’m just not sure of that. In any case, I thought it was funny.

Funny? Yes. A good perspective for conflict resolution?  No.

When said in a tongue-in-cheek way while observing the irony, the statement is, at least to me, really funny. When said as a way to escape responsibility,  to  deflect the damage we do to others and to our relationships, or to blame the other person when we fail to listen, the statement reveals a pretty natural consequence of not listening to what others have to say.

In fact, failing to listen actually invites the other person to “yell at you.” Why?

Because failing to listen violates a need almost universally expressed by people in all cultures: the need to be heard and understood. Failing to meet another person’s need — or worse, violating a need — sends a threat signal through the other person’s mind that triggers the conflict escalation cycle.

In Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior Ori and Rom Brafman reference several studies that point to the need to be heard and how it affects people ranging from convicted felons to venture capitalists.

The specifics of the people’s lives and the events they are evaluating are different, and people on both ends of this cultural spectrum report higher levels of satisfaction with events — without regard to the quality of the objective outcomes — when they feel that the other person involved in the situation with them spent time with them and listened to their concerns.

For the prisoners, the other person was their attorney. For the venture capitalists, the other person was running the company where they invested money. Two completely different situations with completely different measures of success, and one primary human need cited as the driving force for satisfaction with the outcome: the need to be heard and understood.

In a previous post, I listed listening as one of Five Ways to Ee-escalate a Conflict. The reason that listening works so well is that it meets a human need. Looking for ways to meet the other person’s needs helps to take the perception of threat out of your interaction so that you can move the conflict towards resolution.

Will listening guarantee conflict resolution? No, it won’t.

Not listening, though, virtually guarantees conflict escalation.

This article is from the De-Escalation Tips series. Use the links below to read more from this series.

Comments

  1. Danni says

    I’m crying because this hits the nail on the head so well for me. So many of the communication problems with my ‘engineer’ are related to me feeling like I’m not being heard and you put it in such great terms I know he’ll understand when he reads this. Thank you so much! I love your blog!

  2. says

    Love the last two sentences in your post!

    In my book, I have a list of positive comments you should receive after you listen to someone. Imagine prisoners and venture capitalists making these comments at the end of their respective meetings:

    • I really enjoyed our chat.
    • You gave me your undivided attention.
    • You asked good questions. You didn’t make me feel self-conscious or embarrassed.
    • You made me think. You got me thinking.
    • You didn’t judge. You didn’t make me feel bad.
    • You understood what I was saying.
    • You allowed me to talk through my different ideas and choices.
    • Your feedback was very helpful.
    • You heard my concerns.
    • I really appreciate your support and encouragement.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Listening as a Tool to De-escalate Conflicts – Recently, I read this statement: “They keep yelling at me that I’m not listening.” I would love to give credit to the person who said it, but I’ve lost the source. I think I saw it as a tweet in my twitter stream. I’m just not sure of that. In any case, I thought it was funny. Funny? Yes. A good perspective for conflict resolution? No. [...]

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