Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a two-day Conflict Resolution Training hosted by the Richmond Peace Education Center, a friend of former client of The Spark Mill. While I learned many skills that I’m now storing in my “facilitator toolbox”, I’d like to highlight one in particular: The Act of Listening.
It is my belief that all human beings have a need to be heard, and that this act of listening forms the basis of our human connection. When we can repair a connection that has been broken through a conflict, listening has the potential to patch it up (and with less time and less money than some other options!)
What, actually, does it mean to listen? Here are some questions that may help you gauge and improve your listening abilities:
ARE YOU PRESENT? That is, are you committed to full engagement to what is happening right before you right NOW? The beginning of my training began with the question: What keeps you from being in the room right now? It not only gave participants a chance to share openly about their day-to-day struggles, but it forced participants to acknowledge that they already may not have been giving the facilitators and other participants their full attention. Throughout the training, if I felt my mind wandering, I found it helpful to recognize my distraction and then re-commit to being present.
ARE YOU INTERRUPTING? Most exercises in the training required that one person speak for an allotted amount of time while others listened. For example, in partner exercises, Partner A spoke for one minute while Partner B listened and then they switched. More often than not, I found myself anxious to interject before my partner’s minute was over. Sometimes, this was because they had finished speaking early and I became uncomfortable with the silence. Other times, it was because they had said something I felt I could connect with, and I wanted to share that with them as soon as possible. Because we yearn to connect with other people, I think this is quite common. However, I realized that 1) interruption had the potential to disrupt their flow of thought, and thus our connection AND 2) our opportunity for connection would still be there once they finished their thought. Listening is as much about hearing another person as it is about being self-aware.
CAN YOU IDENTIFY A NEED? The most important thing I learned in my training is that conflict arises when needs are not met. When someone talks, they are not just sharing a story, facts, feelings, but also needs and values. If you can identify these needs and address them, you’re already on your way to conflict resolution!
When The Spark Mill leads a staff retreat or a board strategy session, listening is at the center of the work done by both the participants AND the facilitators. Without active listening skills, we might miss out on the employee who feels overburdened, or the board member who has an idea for a new source of funding. Without true, active listening, we miss out on the gaps between the mission and the vision of the organization, and where it actually stands now.