[Advice] Listening to Hear

Most of the time, in conflicts, we engage in listening to the other party long enough to create a counter-argument that supports the narrative we already have in our heads.

This is not active listening, it’s passive consumption of content while idly waiting for a turn to speak.

This passivity in listening is particularly acute when, in the middle of a statement (or idea) being expressed that we have already dismissed as irrelevant, uninteresting, or not fitting our narrative structure, we pull out the computer in our pockets and start surfing for distractions.

Or our eyes cease to focus on the person making the statement and we begin to look around the room.

Or we begin to fidget and move around, impatiently awaiting the end of whatever is being said.

Children tend to behave like this, and one of the functions of parenting is to curb such ADD-like behavior and channel the energy devoted to not listening to active listening.

And to hearing.

When adults behave like this (as increasingly we are seeing) it leads to the top three cause of conflict: miscommunication, poor communication, and fumbled communication.

There are some ways out of this, and the researcher in listening, Jim MacNamara, offers seven canons of listening (go and check out his talk with the London School of Economics and Political Science. It’s fascinating):

  • Recognition
  • Acknowledgement
  • Attention
  • Interpreting
  • Understanding
  • Consideration
  • Responding

To get to appropriate responding in a way that acknowledges what was said by another party, listening (which is an active, and transactional act) must become part of the listeners’ conversational DNA.

And in a communication world that rewards impatience, inattention, passive (or little) recognition, endless noise, a lack of consideration, poor interpretation, and inattentive responding, what are we as individuals to do to increase our listening, and decrease our speaking?

[Advice] How to Motivate Yourself

Conflicts arise (or get worse)—both internal and external—when motivation wanes.

Physician Heal Thyself

Because it is easier to do the wrong thing (sometimes the more convenient or expedient thing) than it is to do the right thing (sometimes the least convenient and hardest thing) in a conflict, many people revert to the apathy, avoidance, or accommodation.

Motivation is the driver for change and better responses to interpersonal conflicts, but one of the questions we get asked is “Well Jesan, all this interpersonal conflict tactics stuff is great, but what about getting people motivated to actually do it?”

We point out that the motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar, often made the point that motivation—much like showering—doesn’t last. And that you have to renew your motivation every day, in the same way that you shower every day.

We would make three additions to that assertion as well:

Our lives must have meaning first in order for us to get motivated to confront the issues and concerns that cause conflicts, the relationships that are “suboptimal” and the situations that make us frustrated. In the field of student development, this is called agency.

Our personalities must be resilient, able to take disappointment, failure and not achieving our goals the first time around. When there is resilience, motivation matters less, because the mindset changes from “I need to be motivated before I can confront a conflict in my life” to “I am resilient and know  I can get through this conflict with this other person and that’s my motivation.”

Our lives must be well balanced in all five areas of wellbeing: social, career, physical, financial and community. That balance means more than just a few percentage points of feeling good here balanced against a few percentage points of feeling bad there. Without well-balanced lives, a lack of motivation to change leads to emotional apathy and physical lethargy.

Organizations, from family (the world’s first corporation) to churches, have a responsibility to acknowledge and support the balance of wellbeing, appropriate feedback, and encouragement in the form of appropriate recognition and reward, for individuals who search for meaning in their work, play, volunteerism and worship.

Being successful at this task requires the founders, funders, owners and even contributors to those organizations, to start examining their own motivations a little closer.

Or else conflicts, crises, confrontations and aggressive behaviors will continue to demotivate those who could potentially courageously be motivated to attain new meaning when conflicts arise.

-Peace Be With You All-

Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: jsorrells@hsconsultingandtraining.com
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