A core belief here at Family Tree Mediation is that one of the keys that makes mediation successful is each party feeling that the other has really heard what he or she had to say. If you think back on your own experience, whenever you are in an argument or even just a conversation where you do not feel like you are being heard, you will probably recognize that internally all your mental energies become focused on the fact that you are not being heard and on your continuing need to make yourself heard.
It makes sense that when your mental energies are held hostage in this way that you are not able to think further about how it feels to speak your own words or what thoughts reveal themselves as your own words sink in. All your energy is just focused on the fact that the other didn’t listen.
It’s like that old saying in Monopoly: “Do not collect $200; do not pass go.” Our thoughts are a process like a board game. They have a course to run that must be run one move at a time. Each move has its own unique challenge or reward that cannot be predicted until the dice, our words, tell us which square we have landed on.
If you think about your experience of dialogue, you are not able to plan your part in the play. This is not simply because you don’t know what the other person will say, but also because you don’t know what the impact of your own words will be on yourself or what ideas will come up in the course of the conversation.
Not being heard sends you into a loop off the path toward resolution of your conflict. You cannot look down the road and see what will come up for you next because you are going around and around trying to be heard.
When you feel heard by the other, however, you get the green light to move on to what’s next in your heart. You get to go deeper.
Mediation is an invaluable tool for conflict resolution because a trained neutral third party can obtain and maintain buy-in among the parties to participate in a process that helps each side really feel heard. The result of such a process is that the parties are able to discover what lies at the heart of the conflict and, interestingly, it is at the heart of the conflict that there is much more room to find options that meet both side’s most important needs.
Recognizing, then, the importance of feeling heard and also of helping the other side feel heard, it is worth asking: How well do you actually listen? If you are in a dispute that is causing you a lot of discomfort, I encourage you to take this question seriously because good listening is a powerful tool to changing the dynamic of your dispute.
Here is what Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton say in their groundbreaking bestseller, Getting to Yes:
“Standard techniques of good listening are to pay close attention to what is said, to ask the other party to spell out carefully and clearly exactly what they mean, and to request that ideas be repeated if there is any ambiguity or uncertainty. Make it your task while listening not to phrase a response, but to understand them as they see themselves. Take in their perceptions, their needs, and their constraints.” (p. 37.)
Good listening is a practice. Don't beat yourself up if you find it difficult, but don't dismiss it as too elementary to deserve your effort. For myself, it is an ongoing striving that never fails to offer useful rewards.