Active Listening – A Key to Conflict Resolution

Susan Ingram of discusses communication and why "actively" listening reduces tension and helps conflicting parties reach solutions.

The way you listen – or do not listen – to someone directly impacts the outcome of your conversation with that person, especially if your points of view are divergent. There are two levels of listening that take place when you are in conversation with another person.

Level I: Internal Listening. At this level, you hear the words that are being spoken by the other person, but your attention is focused internally on yourself. You are not really attending to the other person’s words, but are paying attention to your own ‘mind chatter’ and only how that person’s words affect you.

Level II: Active Listening. Your awareness is focused totally on the other person. You are able to detach from your own thoughts and opinions. You are no longer listening to the chatter in your own mind, as you concentrate fully on the other person’s words and gestures.

What impact does your listening level have on the outcome of your conversations when you are in conflict with another person?

If you are listening at Level I, you are only gathering and using information that is important to meet your own needs, not to help you understand the other person’s needs. As a result, little or no progress can be made in resolving the conflict. You both remain stuck in your rigid positions, without any deeper understanding of the true issues and needs that lie beneath the surface.

In contrast, when you are listening at Level 2, a very different scenario evolves. Since each of your attention is now focused on the other person’s words, you can begin to have a meaningful conversation. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the other person’s point of view; you just have to be open to really ‘hearing’ what they are saying. The stage is set for both of you to move beyond your rigid positions and to begin to understand each other’s underlying needs. A collaborative discussion can now take place in which a win-win solution will likely be reached.

It is a very difficult task to listen consistently at Level 2. When emotions are intense, it’s natural to regress to Level 1 listening. That’s why it’s extremely helpful to have a mediator (or other facilitator) present to guide the conversations.

In my own work as a mediator, I’ve used a number of approaches to help my clients succeed in this challenging endeavor. It takes perseverance, know-how, and empathy on my part to move the conversations to Level 2. When that happens, though, I notice a shift in the energy in the room. Although there still can be tension between the parties, it has relaxed its grip somewhat. Now they can constructively move their conversation forward and find solutions that work for both of them.

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5 responses on “Active Listening – A Key to Conflict Resolution

  1. Gail Ferraioli

    Succinctly and beautifully said, Susan! I am sure your clients are fortunate to have your ears. Level Two listening is enhanced by techniques of Non-Violent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg), the mirroring dialogue of Imago therapy (Harville Hendrix)and the curious stance inherent in Non-Defensive Communication espoused by Sharon Strand Ellison. For those eager to further develop listening capacity, I highly recommend all three.

  2. Morna Barsky

    Congrats Susan…You have so eloquently captured a major essential key to more effective and successful communication skills…John Haynes first informed me of Robert Bolton’s 1979 book “People Skills”…with practice exercises that I have treasured over many mediations, therapy sessions, trainings…and continue to attempt as mindfulness in my own life…

    They cannot be practiced enough…Bravo and thank you…Best, Morna

  3. Daniel Burns

    Many of my clients think they are not able to mediate because they can not resolve issues between themselves outside of the mediation sessions. Active listening is a perfect reason why they would benefit from having a trained mediator assist them with their communication. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Patrick Wedge

    An excellent article Susan. I see the big shift during my mediations when the parties do achieve Level 2. It is the “magic moment” when, as you say, they start to consider each other underlying needs.


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