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Listen Up:  How to Survive This Holiday Conflict Season by Listening

December 17, 2017

By Stefanie Blahut

It’s officially December and the holiday season is upon us, but so is another season–conflict season. Family gatherings are magnets for touchy subjects like politics and religion. Over the next few weeks, I’m going to give you tips on how to navigate conflict season relatively unscathed by learning how to neutralize conflicts quicker and more effective mediation.

One extremely effective tool you must have in your conflict resolution toolbox is listening. There is a big difference between hearing what someone said versus truly listening to what the other person said. Listening is an actual skill, and it’s a difficult one. When you’re in a disagreement with someone, the last thing you feel like doing is listening to them. You want to be heard, not the other way around. You want to convince them that they’re wrong and you’re right.

However, by actively listening to the other person, you will likely (1) feel heard quicker and (2) have a better chance of convincing the other person of your position. Here’s how you can up your listening game and slay conflict like a pro.

Mediation Tip 1 – Power Up Your Approach

In conflict, people often feel that they have the power when they’re speaking and feel weaker when listening. Ironically, the power lies in the listening role. Consider listening as an investment. Listening pays dividends, just like investments. The better listener you are, the greater chance the other person will listen better to you. Next time, approach the listening role as the more powerful role.

Mediation Tip 2 – Ask the Right Kind of Questions

Asking the right kind of questions can instantly transform you into a better listener. There are two kinds of questions:  open-ended questions and closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions require a one-word response, typically a yes or no. An example of a closed-ended question is, “Did what I say make you upset?” On the other hand, open-ended questions require a more detailed answer. An example of an open-ended question is, “How did what I say make you feel?” When asking open-ended questions, you will demonstrate more interested and engagement in the other person’s experience.

Mediation Tip 3 – Be in the Moment

When other people are talking to us, we have a tendency to form our response while they are still talking. When we do this, we are missing information being communicated to us. Skilled listeners refrain from such multitasking and are simply in the moment. By being in the moment, and not deciding what we are going to say next, we are more present and capable of receiving the information being communicated.

Mediation Tip 4 – Sum it Up

In addition to being crappy listeners, many people are often crappy communicators. Even though we are speaking the same language, lots of information can be “lost in translation.” These gaps in communication mean that we become mind readers; we make assumptions or misinterpret what the other person is saying to make up for the information we are lacking. To avoid these situations, try briefly summarizing what the other person said. This creates an opportunity to clear up any confusion and help you have a better understanding of what the other person is actually saying.

Mediation Tip 5 – Do You Have Intent?

When we enter into conversations, we often listen for the sake of being nice or out of perceive obligation rather than for the sake of learning. Entering into conversations for the sake of learning allows you to be more open and engaged with the other person. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to better understand the other’s point of view.

Mediation Tip 6 – Speak Less, Listen More

As mentioned earlier, the true power role is the listener. Pay attention to how often you’re speaking to how often you’re listening. When we’re speaking, we aren’t listening. Strive to speak less and listen more. By gaining a meaningful understanding of the other person’s point of view, you are actively avoiding unnecessary conflict.

Mediation Tip 7 – Be a Detective

Humans communicate vast amounts of information non-verbally as opposed to verbally. Our body language, and other nonverbal cues, are treasure troves of information to how a person genuinely feels. When in conflict, pay particular attention to unspoken clues. These clues can be found in the other person’s tone, body language, and facial expressions. You can use this information to gain a better understanding of the other person’s true feelings, particularly when it contradicts with what the person is saying. It’ll help neutralize conflict quicker by getting to the heart of the problem faster.

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