Module 3: Listening for Understanding – Introduction

The following is the introduction to Module 3 of “Essential Skills for Engaging Conflict”, a course that Sound Options Group developed in partnership with Oklahoma State University.  These modules are a good resource to lead your team through as you work to improve your conflict engagement skills.

When experiencing conflict the thing most people most want and need is to be heard and understood.  How often we hear, “They are just not listening to me”, when taking requests for mediation.  Have you ever experienced people with whom you are in conflict repeating themselves?  This is often an indication that they do not believe they have been heard.

In the book, Difficult Conversations:  How to Discuss What Matters Most, the authors introduce the notion of a ”conversational stance” when engaging conflict.  When taking what they refer to as a “telling stance” we frame the conversation in the following context:

  • You see the situation differently than I do.
  • I know that I am right.
  • We cannot both be right.  Therefore . . .
  • You must be wrong.

Once we have adopted this structure, the goal of the conversation is to “tell” everyone else where they are “wrong’, and to “tell” everyone why we are “right”.

The alternative to a “telling stance” in their model is a “learning stance”.  In a learning stance we choose to frame the conversation as follows:

  • It is a given that when engaging challenging conversations, we are always operating from different “personal pools of meaning”
  • Given that the issue(s) we are addressing is/are complex, let’s not waste our time arguing whose “personal pool of meaning” is the “right” one.
  • Let’s commit to having a conversation that will create a “deeper, shared pool of meaning”.
  • It is our belief that out of this deeper, shared pool of understanding will emerge options and possibilities we haven’t even considered.

A key characteristic of a learning stance is curiosity.  Listening is essential to support curiosity.  In this module you and your team will:

  • See listening as more than just something to “do”, but as a way of “being” present in a conversation,
  • Understand the five critical reasons for listening,
  • Learn specific strategies for both attending and responding as a listener, and
  • Practice the skills introduced.


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