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.