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.