The Politics of Listening

November 17, 2016

imagesWhat does the current political climate in the US say about our ability to engage in conflict? Some of us may like to think we know something about conflict and how to disagree with others in a constructive way. But when it comes to political discourse, is there more we could learn?

When engaging in an honest political debate, it’s essential that people listen well, whether it involves the Democrats debating the Republicans, or a left-leaning family member arguing with a cousin on the right. In this last Presidential election, I wonder if the Democratic party was really listening to the Republicans or the concerns of the middle class, especially those in the rust belt. This failure to listen and understand opposing views is also evident on Facebook, where we are mostly in an echo chamber, reading the views of those we already agree with. The echo chamber also exists geographically; most of us live in communities with people who are like-minded. It is rare that we communicate and debate with people of opposing viewpoints.

News stories from November, 2016, right after the Presidential election, noted that many Americans were cancelling Thanksgiving plans, unable to face relatives who had voted differently than they had. What would happen if we just sat down and listened to each other?

I recently read one story that suggests what connection and listening, as opposed to anger and alienation, can do. A young Jewish college student befriended white supremacist, Derek Black, and invited him to Friday night Shabbat every week. They listened to each other and shared ideas. Over time Derek renounced white supremacy.

Maybe it’s time to start listening.


imagesHave you ever been angry with someone, dashed off an angry e-mail, and hit “send” without stopping to edit your hostile words? What happened? Did it help the situation? For one writer, the answer was a resounding “no.” After a co-worker had repeatedly critiqued the writer’s proposal at company meetings, the writer impulsively sent him an e-mail saying, “You really have no idea what you are talking about. Can you stop blocking the project”? Soon after, the writer’s boss learned about the e-mail, and the proposed project was stalled. For weeks the writer feared for his job. (Read the full story here.)

For many of us, modern technology has changed how we handle conflict. Rather than speaking face-to-face with those we are upset with, we send an angry text or e-mail. In the heat of the moment, the ease of technology, and its offer of quick communication without an actual exchange of words, lures us in.

Yet the risks are huge. Your rushed and angry words are the modern equivalent of a below-the-belt blow. You are able to spew your vitriol without having to look the other person in the eye. And because you are choosing not to communicate face-to-face, you don’t have the opportunity to explain your words, soften them, or apologize. Instead, the receiver of your words may very well interpret your words in the worst possible way, hold a grudge, and perhaps send back an inflammatory response. The conflict will likely heat up.

Of course, with face-to-face communication, things can also go awry. We’ve all had at least one, probably several, screaming matches in our lives. And yet, there are a few reasons why the face-to-face discussions often turn out better. One reason is that when you have to face the person you’re upset with, and look that person in the eye, you’re likely to choose your words carefully. Second, with face-to-face communication, people can read your tone, and are less likely to misunderstand you. And if they do misunderstand you, you can correct that error quickly. Third, when you are speaking directly to the person you’re in conflict with, you don’t get to hold the floor forever. At some point you have to listen to the other person’s point of view, and through that exchange of perspectives, there’s a good chance the two of you will come to an understanding.

In the rare case that you do decide to send an e-mail when you are angry, read it over several times and save it as a draft. Ponder it for a while and perhaps revise it. If upon re-reading it you find you have blamed the other person, or pointed fingers, revise the
e-mail again. In your new draft, explain why the other person’s actions were hard for you. And if there is something you’d like the other person to do differently in the future, express that request.


The Applicability of Brain Science To Mediation

February 14, 2013

As brain science appears more and more frequently in the popular media (see, for example, this Slate article) many in the conflict resolution field find themselves fascinated with how brain science can be relevant to the art of conflict resolution. Below, I offer some specific examples of brain science, and brain science research, and discuss […]

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Our Nation’s Struggle With Conflict – Could Mediation Make a Difference?

January 18, 2013

Two recent events that have blasted our airwaves – the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, and the Congressional debacle over the Fiscal Cliff and now the Debt Limit – have led me to ponder our nation’s struggle with conflict. While the two events are entirely different, both can be seen as a clarion call for a […]

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The Dalai Lama on Conflict

October 14, 2012

“Peace does not mean an absence of conflicts; differences will always be there. Peace means solving these differences through peaceful means; through dialogue, education, knowledge; and through humane ways.” “We must work to resolve conflicts in a spirit of reconciliation and always keep in mind the interests of others. We cannot destroy our neighbors! We […]

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Frequently Asked Questions About Conflict Coaching in the Workplace

May 23, 2012

What is Conflict Coaching? Conflict Coaching is a one-on-one process designed to help individuals more effectively engage in conflict. During a conflict coaching session, the coach helps the individual understand a particular conflict from a different perspective, and assists the individual in finding and assessing options for resolution. A conflict coach can also help an […]

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A Sample Workplace Mediation

May 16, 2012

This video, from England, involves two managers, whose very different working styles lead them into conflict. The mediation helps them address these differences and find new ways of working that meet both of their needs.

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Video Explaining Mediation and its Benefits

April 4, 2012

Try this helpful video about mediation:

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Foreclosure Mediation in Washington

February 11, 2012

In April 2011 the Washington state legislature passed the “Foreclosure Fairness Act,” which gives distressed homeowners working with housing counselors or attorneys, the right to in-person mediation with the bank or company servicing their mortgage. The purpose of the program is to give homeowners facing foreclosure the chance to negotiate alternatives to foreclosure such as […]

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Workplace Conflict: Conflict Training, Conflict Coaching, and Mediation, as Solutions

October 17, 2011

How often do you experience conflict at work? According to a poll by Civility in America, 43% of American workers have experienced incivility and 38% say there is increasing disrespect in the workplace. An additional survey, commissioned by CPP, Inc., indicates that employees around the world deal with conflict, on average, 2.1 hours a week, […]

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