Active Listening as Conflict Resolution

In the book Solving Tough Problems Adam Kahane lays out a methodology for dealing with tough problems in the most difficult situations.  Kahane played an integral role in the Mount Fleur Process which brought together representatives from Apartheid-era South Africa. Participants discussed what South Africa would look like after Apartheid. After the Mount Fleur Process, Kahane took part in similar gatherings throughout the world (Follow this link to learn more about Kahane’s work).

Many aspects of the book will be useful to people in their everyday lives, I would like to focus on listening. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells us that by “becoming genuinely interested in people” and “be[ing] a good listener” are two important roles in building successful relationships. That’s great, but what is listening and how do we do it?

Perhaps you are rolling your eyes at the thought of this silly question, but I have been involved in many frustrating conversations with non-listeners. These “conversations” generally become a waste of time and quickly deteriorate into mindless arguments, with people talking past each other.

Adam Kahane details Otto Scharmer’s Four Ways of Listening:

  1. Downloading – listening from within our own story, but without being conscious that what we are saying and hearing is no more that a story. When we download, we are deaf to other stories; we only hear that which confirms our own story. This is the kind of nonlistening exhibited by fundamentalists, dictators, experts, and people who are arrogant or angry.
  2. Debating – listening to each other and to ideas (including our own ideas) from the outside, objectively, like a judge in a debate or courtroom.
  3. Reflective Dialogue – listening to ourselves reflectively and listening to others empathetically-listening from the inside, subjectively.
  4. Generative Dialogue – listening not only from within ourselves or from within others, but from the whole system.

According to Kahane and Scharmer, downloading and debating repeat already existing ideas. Nothing new is created. Reflective dialogue and especially generative dialogue can create new social realities. This is intimidating to think about, but can be done quite easily.

The website PersonaDev offers 10 Tips to Be a Better Listener. There are plenty of articles dedicated to active listening, but I think this one is short and to the point. I’m going to provide an excerpt, but I highly recommend the reading article and website.

  1. Be Legitimately Interested: Be interested. Drop whatever you were doing and focus. Stop focusing on the email you were writing or the article you were reading and really listen. Put yourself in the speaker’s place and make his or her problems your own. The speaker will consciously or subconsciously pick up on this and you will learn more from the conversation. However, if you are in the middle of something just a little too important to drop…
  2. Be Honest About Your Time: If you really are in the middle of something important, tell the speaker. Apologize and plan for another meeting where you can ensure your full attention and focus. This will let the speaker know that you appreciate their coming to you and you want to give them your full concentration. It’s much better than lending half-an-ear and not listening well.
  3. Accept the Speaker’s Point-Of-View: At least until he or she is done speaking. Some of us have the desire to get our point across and a word in for every sentence spoken. Even if you disagree with the speaker’s stance on a subject, allow him or her to finish their thought before voicing your disagreement and then only if necessary. Remember, you are trying to be a listener, not partake in a discussion.
  4. Use Body Language, Eye Contact, and Repetition: Using body language and eye contact the right way can really have an impact on the speaker. To show you are listening and interested, lean slightly forward in your chair. Not so much that your elbows are on your knees, but enough so you aren’t reclined back on your chair. Make consistent eye contact, but do not stare. Make noises like “mm-hmm,” or say “I see,” and frequently repeat what was just said. These actions show that you are interested and actively listening.
  5. Go Beyond the Words: Good listeners are actively thinking not just about what was said but also why and how it was said. Why did this person come to you to talk (or be heard). Is there excitement in their voice? Resentment? Jealously? Once you determine the motive of the speaker, can you react more smoothly to their words.
  6. Get Rid of Distractions: Just by slightly closing a door or turning off your monitor you can portray to the speaker that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say. Focus.
  7. Avoid Planning Counterarguments: It is a natural response to automatically start planning a counterargument as soon as something is mentioned. As hard as it may seem, don’t. Mentally record your disagreement and formulate a response later after the whole message has been received.
  8. Be Aware of Your History with the Speaker: As a corollary to tip 5, think about how your history with the speaker may affect what is being said. Is there potential for flared feelings? Sympathy? Fear? Figuring this out will help you better understand the speaker’s motives and, thus, respond accordingly.
  9. Ask Questions: If there is something said that is not clear to you, ask for clarification. Be careful not to use questions to rebut or represent your point-of-view. Only ask questions that’ll help your understanding of what the speaker is saying.
  10. Watch and Learn from the “Good Listener”: We all know one or two “Good Listeners”. Next time you are speaking to them, really pay attention to what they do. One can read a ton of articles and not learn as much as they would from actively watching a good listener in action.

Being a good, active listener makes life a lot easier. Your conversations will be more enjoyable and less nuanced. More importantly, your active listening will encourage others to do the same. Whether you are trying to solve a tough problem, perform a group mediation, or plan your weekend, everything will go a lot smoother and more will be accomplished.

The large scale implications are what interest me the most. In our current society, people are quick to call the police if a problem or disagreement arises. A more ideal situation would involve people talking out their issues either by themselves or with a mediator. A lot of conflict can be resolved by listening and understanding the other person’s motivations.

Peer mediation is a common model in elementary and high schools for a reason. . .it works. Children and youth are encouraged to work problems out amongst themselves. A group of youth mediators told me that mediation works and has led to a decrease in violent behavior amongst their peers. Active listening plays and important role in mediation and conflict resolution.

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I am a doodler. My notebooks, meetings agendas, and other random scraps of paper have random words and pictures on them. I’m thinking about sharing them on this blog since, to be honest, I rarely use it. Here are some notes of randomness from a recent trip out to New York. To say that I was excited for this trip is an understatement. I was visiting two of my favorite people. Two people that I hadn’t seen since their wedding five years ago!

This is obviously not a doodle per se. Let’s just call it a digital doodle.

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Running for dimes

TL;DR

I am raising money for the ALS Association. Can you spare a dime to help me out?

Three days. In three days, on Sunday, October 8, I will be running the Chicago Marathon for the fourth time.  As in the previous three years I am running to raise money for the ALS Association, the disease that takes someone’s life every 90 minutes. As you probably know my dad’s life was one of those. The ALS Association has done so many great things for pALS, their families, and worldwide ALS research. The personal attention that I have received from ALSA staff really helped me through these trying times. Personal encouragement from Maryilene is THE reason that I am a marathon runner.

::Donate::

Money raised from the ice bucket challenge, along with yearly walks, runs, and other fundraisers have provided research funds to clinics throughout the world (research updates). The research funds made available continue to play a crucial role in understanding this mysterious disease.

Please consider donating a few bucks to support this great organization? As an added bonus, I will share a video of kids soaking me with buckets of water.

Donation link – http://web.alsa.org/site/TR?px=3557317&fr_id=12490&pg=personal


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/104336099″>Full Circle Ice Bucket</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/user21470225″>Douglas County Housing</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Thirty Six Years or Three Years

Today is my 36th birthday. It also marks three years since my dad lost his battle with ALS. I’m not going to pretend that this blog post contains an amazing message or his highly philosophical. (Spoiler – it’s neither.)

Three years later. On my birthday. Three years later I am still trying to grasp what that means. As a skeptic…as a contrarian…as a non-practicing atheist…I have regularly thought about that day. I have thought about that day for three years. Sometimes I think that it was, all things considered, the best birthday present ever. Other days I think it’s the cruelest joke. Still there are some days that I don’t believe it.

The only thing that I do know is that I will never take anyone for granted. I am fortunate to be surrounded by amazing people. You all are amazing. Don’t forget that.

Rest in Peace, Pops. I miss you. And thank you, Mom. You’ve been so strong and supportive through this crazy journey. Oh yeah…Amy & Brian….I love you’se guys.

Decade of the Durian or Happy Birthday X!

We spent countless hours making up stories, cooking (mostly) delicious food, watching YouTube videos, and pretending I we were contestants on Chopped. Needless to say, it was a sad day when M and X moved away 4 years ago. Fortunately, I was able to make a quick trip to San Antonio this past weekend for X’s 9th birthday party. My short trip was filled with durian, roller skating, and bad movies (I’m looking at you Nicholas Cage).

The highlight of this trip was clearly the durian. How many 9 year olds do you know that want a durian birthday cake? That’s what I thought. Happy birthday X. You’re the raddest 9 year old in all the land.

Decade of the Durian: a photo essay

Pay to Play and Goodnight Moon Time

This book talk by Putnam demonstrates how much work is to be done in the community development realm. Many of the issues he discusses are extremely relevant to the communities in which I have lived. My interest really piqued when he mentioned a few issues that I work with on a daily basis. Those are “Goodnight Moon” time (the time spent reading with your children) and pay to play in schools. There was so much more in this talk.

Check it out:

 

DAC Leadership Framework

From the article “Direction, alignment, commitment: Toward a more integrative ontology of leadership by Wilfred H. Drath, Cynthia D. McCauley, Charles J. Palus, Ellen Van Velsor, Patricia M.G. O’Connor,  and John B. McGuire. The article was published in Volume 19, Issue 6 of the Leadership Quarterly.

“[W]e propose an ontology in which the essential entities are three leadership outcomes: (1) direction: widespread agreement in a collective on overall goals, aims, and mission; (2) alignment: the organization and coordination of knowledge and work in a collective; and (3) commitment: the willingness of members of a collective to subsume their own interests and benefit within the collective interest and benefit. (A more detailed discussion of these outcomes is presented later.) Adopting such an ontology would mean that talk of leadership would no longer necessarily involve talk of leaders and followers and their shared goals, but would necessarily involve talk of direction, alignment, and commitment. Likewise, to practice leadership would no longer necessarily involve leaders, followers, and their shared goals but would necessarily involve the production of direction, alignment, and commitment (which may or may not involve leaders and followers). We are therefore advocating the idea that leadership theory and practice would be better served in the future by a development in leadership vocabulary at the most basic ontological level.”

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Bicycles for everyone!

I’m so very happy to partner with Lawrence Unchained. Together we have made it possible for more than 30 youth to earn new-to-them bicycles and become safer commuters.

Unchained members will soon provide 10 guests from the Lawrence Community Shelter an opportunity to earn bikes, locks, and tools. They are also in need of donations – both monetary and supplies. Check out the event announcement then sign-up to help or make a donation.

Can you spare a dime to defeat ALS?

As you may know, Ken Lempa, my dad, lost his battle with ALS on December 12, 2013 – my 33rd birthday. In 2014 I ran the Chicago Marathon in his honor. This year I will be running it for the 3rd time. My participation as a member of Team ALS is extremely important. The dedicated staff of the Greater Chicago Chapter of the ALS Association has become a second family to me. They were there when Dad was diagnosed, when we were grieving, and when he passed. Their tireless effort in support of pALS (people with ALS) and for medical research is nothing short of amazing.

Please help me raise money to support this amazing organization by clicking on the above graphic.