Head Conflict Off At The Pass

IMG_5867Much has been written about response vs. reaction. Much has also been written about learning to listen well. The reason is simple, these two things can head a lot of conflict off at the pass and avoid much of the tension we face in our relationships and interactions with others.

I have a problem. I like to be right. I like to win. I like to have the upper hand and the last word. This is something that has existed all of my life and I have struggled with as an adult. Almost 20 years ago this was pointed out to me by someone I served with on a ministry team. Let me tell you, it hurt when they did so because they were quite blunt about it. I was hurt and offended and ready to lash out. I didn’t because the truth of what they said smacked me up side the head like a linebacker.I didn’t like this person for some time after that incident, though it caused much soul searching in me. For a long time, I would hear her voice and those words in my head whenever I realized I was doing this. I have since become very thankful for her courage to so boldly say something to an arrogant, brash young man.

Over the years I have learned to listen more and say less. I have learned to respond instead of react to people and situations. Oh, I don’t always get it right, but I am light years beyond where I was.

The key to listening is to focus on what the other person is saying and not get lost in the what you want to say in return while they are talking. We are too quick to insert ourselves into what is being said and drift away from what the other is saying. This causes us to not really pay attention to them and actually see their perspective and assess our own. It is a learned and practiced skill to take in what another is saying without filling your mind with your reaction and what you want to say. Most of the time, it is good to take a moment after someone speaks to let your thoughts come now that you have truly heard them. One way to do this is well documented and oft advised, repeat what you heard them say in your own words and then add your thoughts.

So much conflict happens because people don’t feel heard or valued and then react and lash out. When we are intent on coming out on top or having the last word or winning every conversation, then things become conflict that never needed to be.

We can stop conflict before it starts by taking time and focusing on the other person and hearing them instead of jumping in, thinking we know what they are going to say, and/or making assumptions about what they are thinking and then reacting. Until we hear them, we can’t know for sure. Until we take time to make sure that our response is measured and proper instead of a hard reaction, we will create unnecessary conflict in our relationships and interactions.

Two of the best books written on this that I have found are The Anatomy of Peace and Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute.