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By Fred Kofman |

The Secret to Managing Conflict? Listen


It is precisely when listening is most important … that you want to listen the least.

In my brand new Lynda.com course Managing Conflict, I show you how to approach personal and professional conflicts in a way that helps both sides find a satisfying resolution.

But the first step toward resolving any conflict is listening.

To resolve a difficult conversation, you and your counterpart need to understand one another and find common ground—and that requires listening.

But when your counterpart confronts you with a different point of view, you feel threatened. If he is right, then you are wrong. He must be wrong so that you can be right. The last thing you want to do is to listen to him!

And your counterpart feels threatened in the same way.

To de-escalate the conflict, you must first control your impulse to argue. That requires a deep breath and act of will.

Second, you have to listen—really listen. I show you how to do this in my Managing Conflict course. Are you genuinely curious? Do you have space inside your mind for your their perspective? Listening will feel like a waste of time unless you hold your view lightly. Why bother if you already know?!

Finally, you have to prove to the other person that you are listening. Here’s how you do that:

  1. Focus. Look at your counterpart. Don´t do anything else. Have you ever talked to someone who is on his phone and emailing at the same time? “Go on, I’m listening,” he’ll say. But that just doesn’t cut it.
    And how do you feel when your counterpart repeats everything and grins, “Told you. I am listening!” in a snarky tone?
  2. Be quiet. Let her finish. Don’t interrupt. I regularly coach executives who want to “learn how to listen.”
    “That’s easy,” I reassure them. “Be quiet.” I respond to their puzzled look with, “You know how to listen. The real question is why you choose to interrupt and not listen.”
  3. Encourage. Nod. Say “Mm-hmm.” Paraphrase. If you’re quiet but just keep a poker face, she won´t know if you’re with her. Quietly nodding or paraphrasing encourages her to present her views fully. Your silent attention creates a vacuum that she will fill up with meaning.
  4. Summarize. Play back her essential point. Attributing the summary to the other will allow you to accept her perspective, even if you don´t agree with it.
    When you say, “I understand that you prefer that we change priorities,” it doesn’t mean that you’re agreeing that it would be best to change priorities.
  5. Check. Ask her if you understood her point, and let her correct you. You may have not gotten the gist of her argument. Perhaps you misunderstood, or perhaps she misstated it. Either way, by checking, you give her a chance to sharpen or expand her thoughts.
  6. Validate. Acknowledge she has a point. Being human is being rational. Telling her that you understand why she sees things the way she does shows respect for her intelligence. If you don´t understand, avoid blaming her. Don’t say, “You’re not making sense.” Try instead, “I know that you have an important point, but I don´t get it yet. Can you help me?”
  7. Inquire. Ask her what she would like from you. You can’t read her mind, so you don’t know what she wants. If you assume you do, it’s hit and miss—mostly miss. There are myriad reasons to engage in conversation; you are on much safer ground if you ask her.

Now it’s your turn

When you get home, ask a family member or a friend to tell you how his or her life is going. Listen empathetically following the guidelines above. Let us know how it goes!

Check out my new Lynda.com course Fred Kofman on Managing Conflict to learn more.

Fred Kofman, Ph.D. in Economics, is Vice President at LinkedIn. Follow his Conscious Business Program at Conscious Business Friends.



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