The Power of Listening

March is International Listening Awareness Month

The Power of Listening

One of the most critical skills a mediator or facilitator can bring to the table is the ability to be an “active” listener. When working with people engaged in a dispute, our trained mediators use their active listening skills to go beyond just hearing words; they note what people say and do. They listen for facts and emotions. They acknowledge what the parties in conflict are telling them by clarifying messages, then restating those messages so everyone in attendance understands.

Mediators and facilitators build trust and credibility when they utilize active listening skills. If participants share their side of the situation and realize that they being heard by an active listener, they sense that they are being validated, not judged. Mediators recognize that disputants are more willing to open their minds to creative solutions when they feel respected and what they have to say truly matters.

“People start to heal the moment they feel heard.”
~ American author Cheryl Richardson

All of us want to be heard. Unfortunately, most of us are passive listeners. We spend our time waiting to interject our own point of view, rather than being an active listener. Can you recall a time you felt you weren’t being heard? Chances are, rather than being open to perspectives that are different from yours, you dug your heels in deeper and shut down the conversation?
Recognizing that people “shut down” and refuse to find common ground when they feel judged for their comments, our facilitators and mediators are experts at active listening. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Concord Mediation Center’s facilitators arrange a Family Group Conference (or FGC) to bring together families involved in the child welfare system, as well as child welfare agency workers, professionals and community resources. The purpose of this meeting is to create a plan that ensures the child’s safety and meets the family’s needs. (See “A Mother’s Voice Heard During Family Group Conference” on this website for a detailed story of the process.) Facilitators demonstrate their active listening skills to empower the parties to speak up, to give a voice to parents and extended family members and to concentrate on resolving the problems faced by the families that could lead to reunification or permanent placement of the child in a healthy home.
  • During a mediation, our mediators assist those in conflict work toward having a conversation that permits both parties to openly express their hopes for resolution. Communication-based resolution processes like mediation tend to improve the relationship between the parties, which can prevent or minimize future conflicts.

By learning the active listening skills our mediators and facilitators utilize, you can experience the power of listening.

Active listeners:

  • Make a conscious effort to hear not only the words the other person is saying, but also try to understand the complete message being conveyed (including body language).
  • Pay close attention and don’t get distracted.
  • Acknowledge that you hear what is being said. You can nod, smile or encourage the person to continue with verbal comments such as “yes” or “uh huh.”
  • Provide feedback by reflecting back what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is” is an example of listening with respect, without judgement and asking for clarification.
  • Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions and don’t interrupt with counter arguments.

Author Alice Duer Miller notes, “People love to talk but hate to listen. Listening is not merely not talking, though even that is beyond most of our powers; it means taking a vigorous, human interest in what is being told us. You can listen like a blank wall or like a splendid auditorium where every sound comes back fuller and richer.”

You can start practicing active listening techniques and use them in conversations with family members, co-workers, neighbors and others in your community. You’ll find that you become a better communicator, improve productivity at work and develop better, fuller, richer relationships.

Omaha Gives! 2017

We are excited to be a part of the metro area’s charitable holiday – Omaha Gives! on May 24! Check back for more details coming soon. Learn more at OmahaGives.org and get ready to prove how generous Omaha can be!