In a world full of noise, one of the most valuable talents, is the ability to actively listen to another person.
We often take listening for granted, confusing it with hearing, responding, ignoring, or “taking care of the problem”—without really stopping to examine what the problem is, or even if there’s a problem in the first place.
We also straight up don’t listen to the other party, or parties, at all. We dismiss their concerns as merely “opinions” and don’t stop to examine the deeper reasons behind what the other party is actually saying. Typically, revealing their deep concerns, closely held values, and sometimes prejudices, that if taken into consideration and addressed, would make for a stronger communication scenario, with less conflict.
We dismiss concerns, ignore reasons, defy truths, because we believe deeply that, once we have stated a position, the other party’s responsibility is to give us the response that we “know” is the right one. This is particularly endemic when the party who is listening is a large organization, or a party with access to the resource of a megaphone. In these cases, we do not seek to respond, we merely look to get our next position across to the other party.
The solution to all of this is three fold, and it lies in the process of reframing.
Reframing is the act of repeating the other party’s words and statements back to them. It seems like an obvious rhetorical tactic, but in many cases, conflicts are rooted in a lack of reframing, and many parties never do it at all, even while claiming understanding and appreciation for a viewpoint that may differ from theirs.
Here are the three steps to reframing:
Actively listen—Not just for the content that you hear on the surface from the other party—the content that generates a reaction from you because you’ve stopped listening and are now forming arguments about how and why they are wrong—but the content that isn’t stated. This, the unstated content, is the content that needs to be addressed.
Avoid reacting—When we hear something we don’t like, we tend to lash out, lambast the other party, strafe the room with the gunfire of our rhetorical position, and then move on, justified in the feeling that we “won” they “lost” and “all is right with the world.” This is the pattern of the mob. Reacting is not the way to reframing, but it is the way to escalating.
Actually think—To reframe successfully, the party who is listening must absorb—and think about—what the other party says, stop (or pause) to absorb the information, and then respond by restating what has already been said in the form of a question. Many people—in the race to the bottom of escalation—miss the pausing before speaking part of reframing.
If reframing were easy, everyone would do it. And the core of the art of reframing is the pause, the dip in the conversation, between the two parties.
Your conversational dip will vary, but without one, you are well on your way to escalation, defensiveness, reaction and conflict.
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-Peace Be With You All-
Jesan Sorrells, MA
Principal Conflict Engagement Consultant
Human Services Consulting and Training (HSCT)
Email HSCT: firstname.lastname@example.org