By Mary McPhail Gray
NVW Board Chair
He was an old white haired man—heavy and slow moving—and he often sat in a metal chair in the sun at the edge of his driveway. One day he waved me over to his chair and commented that he had known my parents for many years. He asked me how school was that day—and I told him about our new reading book and the fun we had at recess. There began a pattern—whenever the weather was good enough—I would find him out in the sun—and on my way home from school I would talk to him—and he just listened and smiled.
Just listened—how often have you heard someone comment that their friend—or their parent or a sibling—“was always there for me.” When you ask about what that means—often the answer was that “I could tell them everything—and they were always ready to listen.”
Listening proves to be one of the most powerful tools used in counseling and therapy, in mediation, in staff disputes, in team development. Such a seemingly simple act—but it has very powerful impacts.
A consultant facilitating a work team planning session reached a point where the group had a plan to deal with an ongoing challenge. They had agreed that the final choice has to be unanimous—everyone had to support the decision. But one woman repeatedly said she was not comfortable with the decision—no matter how much the group members tried to persuade her. Finally the consultant said, “What would you need to make it comfortable for you to agree?” She then spoke for about 5 minutes about her perspective and how she disagreed with some of the other group members. When the consultant commented that her points were very well stated and asked what she recommends they do next—she answered—“Oh now I am fine with the decision.” She was listened to—and ultimately that made all the difference.
A frequent technique used in counseling and therapy when two people are in disagreement is to have one person state their feelings and ideas—and then require the second person to feed back an accurate statement of their ideas to the first person. The speaker has to agree that the person has accurately captured their thoughts—or the two take another turn at speaking and reflecting back. When you have an experience with this technique—you suddenly realize that we rarely communicate like this. You must pay close attention to the speaker to hear their ideas—and most often we are thinking of what we are going to say next and not intently listening. But what a joy it is to speak and then have someone accurately repeat your ideas! It makes you feel heard and respected.
In relationships it is most often in communication that emotions become heated and disagreements escalate. Whether it is about money, sex, parenting, household chores or relative relationships, it takes great skill to navigate disagreements with those who are close to you.
But this is a precious skill to demonstrate and teach to your children.
Often it may be a grandparent who provides the listening ear—they may have the time and enough life experience to recognize that the speaker is struggling with a very important and common conflict. To enter the conversation in a productive way, you may just want to ask—“Let me see if I understand what you are saying (feeling/suggesting/wanting).” And you can show that you really listened!
Nonviolence Works has the largest staff of certified and credentialed behavioral health professionals in northern New Mexico. Contact us at www.nonviolenceworks.us or 575-578-4297.
Mary McPhail Gray is the board chair of NVW and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 575-779-3126.