Active Listening

Active Listening to Empower Others in Conflict Resolution

How do you typically solve workplace conflicts? Do you give advice or try to help others solve their problems for them? Many times, instead of doing, simply listening is the key to resolving conflicts.

Active listening is a skill used to help others solve their conflicts and come to insights or resolution on their own. This is done without you providing your opinion or advice on what to do. By actively listening to their problem, you assist them in understanding their own needs, thoughts, and feelings, which helps clarify the situation and allows them to solve their own problem.

Instead of trying to “take on” someone else’s problem, active listening empowers others to solve conflicts. You are listening to help them discover more internal insight in their problem, allowing them ownership and responsibility for their issue, and coming to a resolution they feel comfortable and confident to move forward.

How is active listening different than listening?

Active listening uses many techniques to assist the person in a conflict in identifying their feelings and needs. Instead of listening to determine how you would respond in a similar situation, active listening puts the sole focus on what the speaker is saying, with the objective of the speaker unearthing further insight into their own problem. Are you truly listening for understanding, or are you just waiting to talk?

Try these active listening techniques to assist in problem-solving:

A) Ask open-ended questions:

  • How did the conflict begin?
  • How would you describe what happened in the situation?
  • What would your ideal resolution involve?

B) Ask specific questions to seek clarification or further probe into the conflict:

  • What do you mean by...?
  • Why are you frustrated with this issue?

C) Paraphrasing, summarizing, or restating another person's statement in your own words to gain understanding.

  • Encourage the other person with brief affirmations like “I see,” “I know,” “Sure,” “Thank you,” or “I understand”.
  • Demonstrate concern with nonverbal cues like nodding and eye contact.

By actively listening and asking the right questions you can create strong relationships, avoid misunderstandings, and ultimately help resolve conflicts. This is a highly valuable skill in the workplace to build productive working relationships, create a pleasant and harmonious work environment and improve collaboration between coworkers or work teams – all of which help you and your organization reach goals with more ease.

What is active listening – and can you do it?

Listening isn’t exactly rocket science, right? All you have to do is to be quiet and hear what the person you’re listening to has to say, right? Wrong. There are actually different quality levels of listening – and only active listening, the highest form, will help you in conflict situations. Why don’t you challenge yourself: Next time a friend or colleague is telling you something, try to remember what goes on in your head while they are talking and how you react to them.

Compare your thoughts and actions with the following four quality levels:

Level 1: You can sort of hear what the other person is saying, but you’re really just waiting for your turn to speak. You are looking for an opportunity (like a pause) to jump in and say what’s been on your mind while you were waiting for the other person to finish their monologue.

Level 2: You understand what the other person means and you can relate it to your own situation. You can’t wait to tell them all about it, about what happened to you, how it felt for you, and how the story ended. Unfortunately, you forget that this was about the other person, not you.

Level 3: You appreciate the other person’s situation and their problem. You have great ideas of how to solve the issue and offer your advice – even if the other person didn’t explicitly ask for it.

Level 4: You listen actively. According to Dr. Stephen R. Covey, this means: “Seek to understand before you seek to be understood.” In other words: You dedicate your sole attention to the other person and their story.

There's a benefit to active listening for you as well.

Think of the act of active listening as being in a room that visualizes the story that your person is conveying. You ask questions and more visualizations of their story and characters pop up. Then imagine everything is frozen, suspended in time, and you can walk around the room and look at all angles and perspectives of each character of this story to imagine all outcomes.  Active listening can be a great way to not only listen but also see things from a different viewpoint which can provide unforeseen solutions. Becoming a great active listener also ultimately builds trust, and trust builds amazing teams, friendships, and family dynamics- so a skill to use anywhere.