“Listening is one of the deepest, most profound signs of loving — listening to yourself and listening to others. Your heart goes out and wraps around them, and God’s spirit of loving embraces you both.” John-Roger, DSS
In any relationship from intimate to working to family there are inevitable conflicts and issues to be worked out. With a consciousness of cooperation and collaboration, conflicts or differences are seen as a natural part of working together to create “a world that works for everyone.” In our own worlds and for all of us on the planet, “conflicts” can lead to a synergy that creates better solutions and deeper connection.
I saw this working first hand in organizations where I did trainings on dealing with conflict and which was re-named “Interpersonal Problem Solving.” “Conflict” only exists when we oppose each other and try to “win” over the other rather than finding solutions that work for everyone involved.
The fact that conflict can lead to expansion, does not mean that strong emotions are not often present. My observation as a psychologist and consultant, is that that is especially true when rapport has been ruptured by breaches of trust—either large or repeated, or when one or both of the parties does not feel that their voice is being heard.
It is common to take a defensive posture when one perceives strong energy coming towards them in a heated interaction, Unfortunately that is akin to putting up a wall that does not allow for an engagement that can be productive and healing. Some even take the wall building to an extreme with what is termed “stonewalling,” which in a variety of ways, says without words, “I am not open to discussing this/healing this. Your pain is not my concern.” There is evidence that “stonewalling” behaviors can even have physical effects on the receiver of this dysfunctional strategy, further diminishing the chances for productive resolution of differences.
So the question becomes, how does one diffuse the emotion that is being directed towards them so that problem solving and new interpersonal behaviors can be discovered? Note that “diffuse” does not mean repress squelch or make wrong.
I was gifted by a very wise and loving partner with a tool that works in an almost magical way. In the middle of a discussion where I was expressing my anger and frustration about a situation, he simply said, “I’m listening.” It was the most loving, effective and expansive response that I had ever experienced. I still get chills and teary eyed when I think of that moment.
More importantly, he actually did listen and in a deep way. He didn’t just let me talk. He took in what I was saying. He didn’t make me wrong or discount my concerns, he looked for ways that we could more effectively deal with situation. (Interpersonal problem solving) He expressed his concern for my hurt/disturbance, even though we both knew to take responsibility for our reactions. And there was no more need for anger because I didn’t have to use force to get through to him. He welcomed my feedback and experience because he truly wanted more harmonious interactions that served BOTH of us.
While it could be one of the more challenging responses to make to a frustrated or angry partner, the benefits of utilizing this “magical” tool is well worth the effort to practice it if there is truly a desire for intimacy and real relatedness. If one or both people are resistant to opening the door to resolution in this way, there may be a hidden agenda(s) that conflicts with the desire for harmony, either conscious or unconscious. Hidden agendas are a topic for another discussion, but simple examples might be an unconscious agenda of a need to win/dominate, fear of intimacy, or revenge for a prior hurt.
When have you felt truly listened to? When have you been open to truly listening to someone who was upset with you? What was your experience?