Avoiding Conflict Before It Starts
There is unnecessary conflict that happens in all relationships, especially in marriages. While I wouldn’t dare try to simplify all conflict to one article, there is one cause that could eliminate a lot of tensions. What is “heard” in conversations or not heard fuels arguments. Many will react negatively to what they think they heard from the other person. Others will react negatively because they don’t feel the other person is actually understanding or “hearing” them. There is one practice that I see lacking in most relationships that would reduce or eliminate both of these issues.
Reflective listening is a skill that needs to happen BEFORE any form of a response is given. Many will react emotionally to what they think they heard or understood before confirming that indeed the message they heard was the message that was intended. Reflective listening involves echoing back what the person said without any commentary or tone followed by, “is that what you intended?” or “did I get that right?” The real art of this skill is to not repeat word for word like a parrot but also to avoid adding emotional words that reflect a slant that may not be intended by the speaker. From my experience when this skill is utilized effectively seven or eight out of ten times what the listener was about to react to was wrong. The person did not intend the negative comment that the listener heard and therefore it avoided an unnecessary negative reaction that then would move the conversation to a “fight” that would be won or lost. Now in the two or three out of ten occasions when what was perceived was intended, the discussion/argument can then be had but likely on a more civil level because there was time for emotion to be paused and clarity to be gained.
The second benefit of this skill is that the speaker often doesn’t “feel” heard which causes frustration. In fact what I’ve discovered as a husband is that there have been many occasions where if my wife “felt” heard that the outcome or conclusion of the discussion was of little consequence. Again, not always, but often. This just emphasizes how important it is that we feel understood by the people we are in relationship with. Reflective listening allows the speaker to know that the listener understood what they were saying. When the listener responds to what they think they heard (without reflecting back to the speaker), especially if it’s wrong, the speaker begins to feel a greater distance between themselves and the listener. When they hear their own words reflected back to them, it sends a message, “I get you, I value what you’re saying, I’m paying attention not just to what you said but what you meant.” This goes a long way to building value and reducing conflict.
Reflective listening doesn’t happen automatically and will be clunky and even awkward when you begin practicing it. Don’t let that deter you. Reflective listening is a skill and an art worth practicing and practicing because it brings great benefit to all relationships, especially family relationships.