7 listening habits: from Least Helpful to Most Helpful in a conflict
Updated: Mar 15
If you want to get good at resolving conflict, become a better listener. And when I say “get good,” I’m not talking about fact that you “win” more often than you “lose.” That’s not the type of conflict management we teach at NobleEdge. The key to conflict management is empathy—finding a solution everyone can get behind. See: Why is empathy so important in resolving conflict?
The key to resolving conflict is to understand the perspective of the other person/people in the conflict. That’s why listening is so important. See: Understanding other perspectives through active listening.
Conflict can shut down our desire to learn. We’re not trying to understand; we’re listening to confirm our rightness—and the other party’s wrongness. Instead, a good listener is curious—open to being shown that perhaps there’s more to the situation than meets the eye.
So, this post is all about growing your listening skills. In it, we’ll look at different methods of listening from least effective in resolving conflict to the most effective. You may be surprised to find out how many kinds of listening there actually are!
Ready? Let’s go!
Worst kind of listening
False listening: We’ve all done it. We really don’t care what the person is saying—or if you do care, it’s only so you can one-up them. False listening is when you cut the person off again and again to make your point. It’s also present when you’re multi-tasking—perhaps looking at your smartphone for a text from your kids while you’re in a Zoom meeting.
Of all the examples of “listening,” (and I use that word loosely), this is the worst kind. You won’t resolve conflict well, nor will you build trust with those around you.
Biased listening: Not much farther up the ladder from False Listening is Biased Listening. This is what happens when you give into the unconscious bias of confirmation bias. See: How confirmation bias fuels conflict—and how to avoid it. (Actually, you don’t give in to unconscious biases. They just take over unless you’re vigilant!) Confirmation bias is when you only attend to the “facts” that fit with your preconceived beliefs. Said differently, we hear what we want to hear. We hear what we expect to hear.
Biased listening is also known as selective listening. The person listening isn’t fully in tune with what the speaker wishes to communicate. Warren Buffet said, “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that his/her prior conclusions remain intact.”
Better, but not as effective in a conflict
Critical listening: Slightly better than biased or selective listening is critical listening. And I don’t mean “critical” in terms that you are being disparaging. Critical listening is listening to evaluate the content of the message. You’re testing assertions in your mind as the person utters them. With critical listening, you’re not just taking the information being shared with you at face value. You may be looking for holes in the argument.
Usually, passing judgment while listening is considered a barrier to understanding a person. However, critical listening occurs when you still want to understand what the other person is saying, but also have a reason or responsibility to evaluate what is being said to you and how it is being said.
An obvious example of critical listening: You go to a political debate to try and determine who to vote for.
Informational listening: This is listening to learn—especially learning a new task or process. You concentrate deeply because you know you’re going to be called up to do the same. This type of listening often involves practical or technical content. It’s the kind of listening you do the first day on the job—and then you stop paying attention. (Just kidding!)
Informational listening is considered a passive form of listening because the listener is not judging, critiquing, or evaluating the message. They're just listening to understand it.
Appreciative listening: Listening for enjoyment. Think of listening to your favorite concert or singer—just sitting back and letting the music overtake you.
When you listen appreciatively, you’re personally invested in what you’re hearing. How the message makes you feel—how it inspires you—is what distinguishes appreciative listening from other types of listening.
Listening styles most likely to help resolve conflict and build trust
Sympathetic listening: This is listening for more than just the words being spoken. It’s being attuned to the speaker’s emotions, hopes, and fears. This allows you to see underneath the words to the real meaning. This is where deep connection and trust are formed. Sympathetic listening is our way of showing that we really understand what a person is saying and how it is affecting them.
An example of sympathetic listening? When your child tells you about the terrible day they had at school. You put down whatever it is you’re doing, orient your body toward them, lean in. Sympathetic listening is especially helpful when the other person is going through some adversity.
Empathetic listening: This is similar to sympathetic listening in that they’re both about caring about what the person is saying. We’re focused on their problems.
Yet, empathetic listening goes behind sympathetic listening and enables to you feel what the other person is feeling—not just hear what they’re saying.
Sympathy involves understanding from your own perspective.
Empathy involves putting yourself in the other person's shoes and understanding their perspective as if it were yours.
When you’re listening empathetically, you’re not afraid of silence, trying to fill it with platitudes. Sometimes the person just needs to be heard and to know you’re there for them. This style of listening is also called therapeutic listening.
When you’re listening empathetically, you’re giving the person your undivided attention. You listen for feelings, not just facts. It’s been said empathetic listening is listening with your heart.
An example of empathetic listening: Jane’s teammate suddenly tells her that she wants to quit. Concerned, Jane asks her why and if there’s something she can do to help. Her teammate expresses her concerns while Jane listens patiently—without giving her advice.
Are you using the right kind of listening to resolve conflict? Don’t beat yourself up if you find that from time to time, you fall into other “less effective” listening methods. We all do. The trick is to realize it and be willing to change your method of listening so that you can get a better outcome.
Want to learn more about how to resolve conflicts? Check out our leadership workshop, The YOU Turn: from Conflict to Collaboration.
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