Stop Conflict Before It Starts


I recently invited an old friend to a “catch-up” lunch. As days seem to consistently get fuller and busier, I cherish each opportunity to spend quality time with friends. We met at a local diner and quickly began chit-chatting away. Moments after our orders were taken, calls began ringing in on her cell phone. From her sister in another state to her next-door neighbor, it seemed they were never ending – then our food arrived. After we finished eating, she picked up her cell phone again to check the messages she missed while we were eating. I held my breath, trying my best to disguise my frustrations.

Later that afternoon I attempted to diagnose why it was that I walked away from lunch with a bitter taste in my mouth – especially when the food was so scrumptious! I realized that it wasn’t because of my dear friend’s cell phone, rather it was because I felt like I was being neglected. I began recalling the number of times that conflict had arisen in relationships because there was a breakdown of communication, most often due to my poor listening skills.

Did you know that on average, adults spend 30 percent of the day listening, yet they accurately interpret no more than 25 to 50 percent of other’s remarks? It’s a stifling statistic! Do you ever find yourself formulating your next remark when the other person is trying to get his or her thought across to you? Let’s look at a few helpful hints in order to sharpen our skills together.

Ask yourself the following questions and analyze yourself in different situations (in conversations with family members, friends, your spouse, teammates). The way you listen often varies according to the relationship. For example, I’m going to listen to my sister differently than I’ll listen to my husband. Write down your answers, it is much easier to make adjustments when you can see what it is you want to change.

  • Do I use eye contact and give positive non-verbal cues when I listen (like nodding my head or smiling) or am I easily distracted by things going in my peripheral vision?
  • Do I allow others to finish speaking before taking my turn?
  • Do I repeat back what I have heard someone speaking – especially when the message is unclear to me?
  • Am I thinking about the rest of my day when someone is speaking?
  • Do I discount the other’s message and stop listening – especially when I do not agree with what they are saying?

After answering, think through it analytically. Ask yourself how you can improve (it’s also nice to note the areas where we are doing well). Write down specific ideas on how you can improve and start to implement your ideas within your daily conversations.

Being a good listener may not be one of your gifts, but it is a large part of your day, so it’s worth working on. So many conflicts take place because we do not have a firm grasp of the other person is thinking. Assessing and refining our own listening skills is an important method to preventing unnecessary conflict.