Active Listening in Conflict Resolution

Posted on: November 13th, 2023

When someone tells you something, how often do you hear them, and how often do you actually listen? How often have you felt that what you have said has landed on deaf ears? Listening is one of the most powerful tools that we all possess, and it can be particularly important during the process of conflict resolution.

What is conflict resolution?

Conflict resolution is something that can take place in any environment when two or more parties are in some form of dispute and are unable to find a peaceful solution by themselves. Conflict resolution therefore takes the form of a type of mediation to help everyone involved find a workable solution.

When a lot of different people are thrown together with different views and backgrounds, for example, in a workplace, then it stands to reason that there will be times when conflicts will arise.

These could be either personal or professional and it can be hard for them to be resolved simply if both parties refuse to back down or assert that they are right, and the situation can often escalate, causing it to get out of hand or to have a negative impact on other people around them or their work.

When it comes to handling a conflict resolution situation, there are many skills which are needed, including negotiation and mediation, but one of the most important skills that you can employ is that of active listening.

What is active listening?

Often, when talking or debating something, many people find that they are listening to the other person, simply so that they can have their turn to speak, and it can mean that they do not always absorb what is being said. Active listening pairs outwardly visible positive listening behaviours with positive cognitive listening practices to address some of the barriers that we might typically face when trying to listen to someone.

Active listening involves having the right listening environment to avoid any distracting noise, and taking away other situations which might make it difficult to fully engage in listening, such as hunger, tiredness or anxiety. It is also possible to prime yourself to actively listen by thinking about what your goals are, what you are trying to find out and how what is being said may affect others.

You might think that active listening only refers to the words that are coming out of people’s mouths, but it can cover much more than this, including paying attention to body language, giving your own cues to show that you are listening, avoiding interruptions and being attentive. As an active listener, you are there to hear what is being said and not to offer your own opinion, so it is important that you make sure it is the speaker who feels both heard and validated.

Why is active listening important in conflict resolution?

Active listening can be incredibly important in conflict resolution as it allows all parties to feel as though they have been heard.

Often, when there is a dispute, most people simply want to get their point across without actually knowing what resolution they would like to see. By simply being able to say it all out loud without judgement, they can go through a process of catharsis, and a lot of the anger, hurt or upset can be worked out of the process simply by knowing that someone has listened to what they had to say and taken them seriously.

This can also help to establish trust in the resolution process, as the empathy that you show will bring about a feeling of psychological safety. You will come across as less of an authority figure and more as a colleague or coach.

Active listening is a crucial part of conflict resolution, as it ensures all sides of every argument have been heard in a positive and constructive environment. By building trusted relationships based around listening, it is then much easier to move on to the next steps of the resolution process and come to a conclusion that all parties will be happy to accept.

Key active listening skills

It might seem obvious, but one of the most important skills that you can have in active listening is the ability to pay attention. You need to ensure that you maintain eye contact and remain focused on the moment without letting your mind drift or wander. Set a tone that lets the speaker feel comfortable in both thinking and speaking and try to avoid cutting them off or interrupting.

You should also pay close attention to body language – look out for signs that the speaker may be agitated, nervous, with-holding something or being untrue.

Your own body language is also important, as it can give the speaker the relevant signs that you are listening and taking on board what they have to say. They will be able to see that you are taking them seriously and maintaining a neutral standpoint without you needing to utter a word.

It can be difficult in certain conflict situations, but you need to make sure that you withhold any kind of judgement. To be an active listener, it is important that you have an open mind and that you hold back on any strong views, criticisms or arguments.

When actively listening, you need to take time to reflect on what you have heard and ensure that you have understood everything correctly. Try paraphrasing some of their key points and summarise what you have heard to show you have listened and ensure you are clear.

Active listening does not mean that you have to sit in complete silence, so do not be afraid to ask questions when it comes to clarifying something that may be unclear or ambiguous. Try asking open-ended questions to allow the speaker to reflect on their own thoughts and feelings and let them do their own work towards solving the problem.

What courses do we recommend?

The Interpersonal Mediation Practitioner’s Certificate

Train to be a mediator with the five-day, face-to-face Interpersonal Mediation Practitioner’s Certificate (IMPC), the market-leading professional mediator qualification.
Find out more

Mediation Skills for Facilitated Conversations

This highly practical two-day online course builds your confidence and competence in using some key mediation skills to facilitate conversations between people who are in dispute.
Find out more

Train your team in mediation and conflict resolution

Leaders need to be able to address and manage conflict in the workplace, especially when addressing difficult topics amongst teams and when resolving disagreements.
Find out more

Take the first step to improving your active listening skills.

Browse our full range of available mediation courses, or contact our team if you would like to learn more about what we offer.

We can resolve disputes for you or can train you how to do it for yourselves. We understand how people get into conflict, and what they need to be able to move beyond it.

We work with all types of interpersonal conflict, using only the most experienced and talented mediators and adult educators.

Our unrivalled and quality-assured services and training courses have been used by hundreds of businesses and thousands of individuals around the world: avoiding lengthy, formal, and litigious processes, and saving time, money, and stress.

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