I Hear You But I Am Not Listening

Posted on Apr 16, 2015 in Communication,Conflict Resolution,Latest Articles . 0 Comments.

1 of these and 2 of these…

I actually quoted Mrs Sutton last week. She was my grade 3 teacher and she used to hold her ears and then point to her mouth and say “You have two of these and only one of these. Use your ears more”.

It was a necessary explanation for a mediation participant whose modus operandi was to dominate through talking. It was one of those mediations where neither party wanted to be there. The two senior executives had been given the ultimatum by their Director “go to mediation, work things out or resign”. During a private breakout session I pointed out the “non-listening thing” to one participant. He conceded he wasn’t listening and said “OK I’ll let him talk but that does not mean I have to listen”. I challenged him a little and asked “What do you gain from that?” We went on to have a discussion about listening and how it’s a strategic tool for both parties.

Listening or Hearing???

When you stop to think about it we all know listening is different to hearing. Hearing is a physical process where as listening is a cognitive process to gain understanding. During times of dispute or relationship tension listening can be your best friend and a powerful tool. The right sort of listening, in this case Active Listening, can give you tremendous insight and understanding of what the speaker thinks are the complexities and subtleties from their perspective. This information has such potential as it allows you, the listener, to make deliberate informed decisions and direct your communication so it has an appropriate impact. Genevieve Lacy, an accomplished musician summed it up beautifully in an address she gave entitled “Learning to Listen” when she said “Listening is an activity that connects us deeply to others. It can change how we perceive the world and then how we decide to live in it”.

To truly listen know that there is something in it for you however you have to be willing to give something to the other.  We are driven by others listening to us, when we get to talk about ourselves and our take on the world we feel good.  In fact two Harvard neurologists, Diana Tamir and Jason Mitchell, have researched that talking about ourselves and our own perspective is intrinsically rewarding. They found that it corresponded to heightened activity in the same area of the brain that is associated with the satisfaction we derive from things like food and money. In some ways, listening can be described as giving the other a ‘mental hug’.  

Not all meditations end in a group hug, nor should they. The one described above resulted in one senior manager resigning. Mediation was initiated too late in the relationship breakdown to achieve a relationship rebuild but it did allow separation to occur without an all-out war! It even restored some of the dignity each party had taken from the other during the escalating tension. 

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