Speaking, Hearing, Really Listening, and Understanding.
People’s feelings get hurt by something someone did or said, or didn’t do or didn’t say. A disagreement arises. An argument ensues. Litigation erupts.
Maybe a deposition takes place in the course of the lawsuit. The attorney correctly says to his client in the context of preparing for the deposition: “Listen to the question; answer only the question. Don’t volunteer anything.”
The person is stifled. Her story doesn’t get out. Her feelings are still hurt. No one in the conflict has heard.
Shift to a mediation setting. Sometimes, people there don’t get heard either.
But they want to be heard, they need to be heard. And someone really needs to listen.
People always feel they have something important to say, and this needs to be respected, always. Moreover, people in conflict need to be able to unload their pent up feelings using their words.
Time and attention needs to be given to this important catharsis.
It does not always happen:
I was once in a mediation where a father and daughter really needed to communicate with one another. I asked the father, “Is there anything you’d like to say?” His response was this: “My lawyer told me not to say anything.”
Thankfully, with my coaching, the father and daughter ultimately did have a conversation. When the father really listened to his daughter, he understood better why she was upset. He was able to do something about it. The case settled and the conflict resolved.
Giving the disputant an opportunity to speak is one important part in the process. Often, unfortunately, the parties do not come together for this purpose. At their request sometimes, they are closeted in private caucuses in separate rooms with their lawyers.
In that setting, the only attentive ear may be that of the mediator. There, the active listening skills of the mediator are crucial. This includes not only hearing what is said, but understanding what has not been said. This includes reflecting back to avoid any misunderstanding and even reframing the conversation so that the person really understands what she is communicating to the mediator and there is clarity between them.
But it’s also the other person in the conflict who usually needs to hear what is being said, not just the mediator. If only the mediator is able to receive the message directly (because the parties are separated from each other in different rooms), the message and any nuance gets filtered through the mediator and transmitted in a different way, which is not necessarily best.
But it’s better than nothing.
Ideally, the parties may come together, face to face, to communicate in a structured setting when the communication is integral to getting to peace.
Different challenges arise then. People are naturally defensive, tempers could rise, and they may not listen. They must be coached first on how to handle the exchange.
I once read that while the speaker is delivering his or her message, the respondent is usually too busy thinking about how to respond and stops listening to what is being communicated. This is a natural human condition and I like to explain and acknowledge this in order for people to listen, really listen.
I also like to summarize what people are saying and reflect it back, or reframe it, so everyone in the room understands the communication. I use and by example teach active listening when given the opportunity.
Being heard leads to being understood. Giving the opportunity to speak is important, but listening, hearing and actually understanding is crucial.
Sometimes it is hard and maybe impossible for some people really to listen, to hear and to understand. They may have defense mechanisms that muffle or block out the communication. They may be unshakably stubborn and will only hear themselves.
But we must always try, for, without communication there can be no understanding, and without understanding there often cannot be peace.
Speaking, hearing, really listening, and actually understanding thus are essentials in mediation … and in life.