Are you listening to the person you are having conflict with? And, are you hearing what they are actually saying? If you are like most of us, what you are hearing in conflict is mostly yourself. In fact, we use the time when our conflict partner is speaking to refine our own arguments or to withdraw to a place where we could disengage. Even if we make an attempt to listen, what we hear is a reflection of our own story, which may have very little to do with what our partner is actually saying.
Why is it so hard to listen and to hear in conflict? Well, at the root of conflict is a challenge to a story we carry. Because of our attachment to it, we confuse this story with us. Listening to and hearing others in conflict presents a possibility that our story might be wrong. And, since we confuse our story with us, this means that our perception is that we (and not just our story) might be wrong. So, therefore instead of listening to our partner, we do all that is possible to defend us.
But, what if we didn’t confuse the story with us and instead saw it for what it is – a story (that may or may not be true). Then, a challenge to a story would not be a challenge to us. Rather, a challenge to our story would present an opportunity to go beyond it (or at least to expand it). While going beyond our story can be quite painful and unsettling, it is also the definition of growth.
So, listening to and hearing others, especially our conflict partners, is essential to our growth. And, because pain is an integral part of growth, listening and hearing means displaying willingness to fully experience this pain. In other words, listening to others, especially our conflict partners, is an act of courage and a sign of strength: the courage and strength to be vulnerable and open to what we might hear, especially when it conflicts with our own story about how things are or should be
Listening is compassion in action. And, thus it is the greatest gift we could give to ourselves and other human beings, especially our conflict partners.
Are you listening?