The Extraordinary Power of Listening

Do you ever get into arguments with colleagues, contacts or family members? Sure. Of course you do. It happens to everyone. It happens all the time. Just ask any married couple!

Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of creative alternatives for responding to conflict — alternatives to passive or aggressive responses, alternatives to violence. – Dorothy Thompson

But whilst some arguments and disagreements can be very productive and help us to express ourselves with openness and candour, some disputes can easily degenerate into conflict. And, in a world that is already experiencing far too much human conflict, this cannot be good for anyone. So, how do we make sure that a difference of opinion doesn’t erupt into a full-blown blood feud?

An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind. – Mahatma Gandhi

The first principle in resolving conflicts is to make sure they don’t arise in the first place.

Prevention, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is always more effective than cure.

Many modern theories about conflict resolution have identified poor communication as one of the leading causes of anger, confusion and misunderstanding. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If we’re not really listening, we can’t possibly appreciate what the other person is trying to communicate. Research confirms that many of us suffer from acute, knee-jerk reactions whenever we hear something that offers an alternative way of looking at the world. This is especially true when our cherished beliefs are challenged, whether intentionally or not.

All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal. – John Steinbeck

We might suppose that there must be a great deal of insecurity if a different opinion can provoke a hostile, defensive reaction. Aggression, after all, is rarely a product of confidence. The problem usually arises though when the comment is interpreted as a personal criticism. Can you appreciate how that would make a difference? How often do we react defensively when someone says something negative about us? It’s almost always an automatic reaction, isn’t it?

So, it’s very helpful to remember to focus on addressing the issues in question rather than attacking someone’s qualities as a human being. There is a world of difference between a discussion about someone’s behaviour and a disparaging judgement about their personality.

If you’d like to experience the miracle of enhanced communication for yourself, the secret can be summed up in one word: listen.

Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head – because you differ from yourself ten years ago. – Horace Mann

That’s right. There is more value in the art of listening attentively than you might imagine. The art of listening is surely one of the most neglected skills in our culture. When we learn to focus all of our attention on another person’s words and expressions, we enter a fascinating world of extraordinary realisation. Yet, in a world of instant electronic communication with the entire planet, hardly anyone listens anymore.

We seem to have become profoundly unaware of the subtleties of communication. We’ve lost the power to communicate in a truly effective manner. In its place, we’ve learned to react instantly and to reply with shortened text symbols and emojis. This is not listening. This is the shallowest approximation of communication.

Be wary of silence. It doesn’t mean you won the argument. Often, people are just busy reloading their guns. – Shannon L. Alder

If you want to reduce conflict and improve the quality of communication in your life, it isn’t necessary for you to worry about how to get people to understand you. Your challenge is to learn to listen more attentively and thus gain an understanding of others through the way they choose to express themselves. This is the great hidden power of effective communication,

So, how does it work? Language is incredibly complex and it offers a truly vast array of choices when it comes to finding ways to share your thoughts and feelings. When you learn to listen attentively and notice the precise choice of words and tones and pauses and inflections that an individual employs, a whole new world of understanding opens up.

When you consider the precise choice of words and the accompanying body language, you gain a fascinating insight into the other person’s view of the world. When you repeat their words back to them and demonstrate that you’ve really listened, you’ll notice the change in their behaviour. We all crave understanding. We need to be understood. Yet, it remains incredibly elusive in our culture. Begin a revolution today in your environment by concentrating on what other people say and then demonstrating that you’ve listened. Some will think you’re psychic. Some will think you possess some extraordinary super-power. But, in reality, you’ll be exercising one of the most effective gifts humans can share with each other: the power to listen to and understand others.

And finally, heed well the advice of Mark Twain:

Never have a battle of wits with an unarmed person! – Mark Twain