Listening – the best tool for resolving conflict in the workplace


Listening

Listening ears (photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/niclindh/1389750548/)

Have you ever had an experience of trying to communicate when someone is not listening to you. How did it make you feel? Hurt? Rejected? Frustrated? Angry?

What about when you have been listened to – the kind of listening when someone has given your full attention without interrupting, judging, telling you what you did wrong and what you should do?

Unfortunately, that kind of experience of listening is not too common for most of us. But when we get it, just the act of being listened to make us feel better – less angry, more in control and capable of sorting our own problems out.

Listening is by far and away the best tool we have for resolving conflict in the workplace and building good relationships. But it is used too little. Sometimes not at all.

We have all been given two ears and just one mouth – which suggests that we are meant to listen twice as much as we speak.

Instead, most of us seem to want to talk twice as much as we listen. Even when we are not talking we are often too busy thinking of the next thing we want to say and so we don’t really listen to what the other person is saying.

There is a story about a professor who was writing a book about different religions who went to Japan to learn from a famous Zen Buddhist master. When he arrived he introduced himself and started to tell the Buddhist all about the book he was writing and his ideas while the master poured tea. The master kept pouring tea until the cup overflowed onto the tray and then to the floor. The professor jumped up shouting, ‘Stop! Stop pouring! It’s overflowing.’ The Buddhist master turned to the professor and said, ‘You are just like this cup. You are so full of your own ideas and opinions that there is no room for any more to go in.’

To listen we have to first empty our cup. This means making a conscious decision to make space in our minds for another set of ideas, another perspective. If you are going into a situation where you need to listen, a good preparation is to take a couple deep slow breaths, close your eyes, and become aware of how you are feeling and what thoughts and judgements you might be carrying that could get in the way of listening.

For example, you might be worried about something unrelated to the person you are going to listen to. Or you might be feeling pressured over a task that needs doing urgently. You might have a lot of judgements about the person positive or negative, or have some opinions about what you think they are going to say. All of these things are perfectly natural and normal. But if we are not aware of them, they can get in the way of our ability to listen.

(photo by nidlindh, flickr.com)

Mike Lowe
Helping individuals and teams get into flow

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