Explore effective listening

When working within human service providing roles, it is crucial to listen to all sides of the situation.

“Problem,” “issue,” “situation,” “circumstance” and “condition” are descriptive words with pre-conceived notions. There are some words that have stronger, more serious connotations while other words can create a sense of dullness or blandness. What is interesting about the descriptive words that are chosen when discussing or describing conflict is that they can provide others with pre-conceived notions about that conflict.

Human service individuals such as volunteer managers, Extension professionals and youth development workers, are often charged with handling conflict. Conflict wouldn’t occur if there were not two opposing viewpoints. Furthermore, it is rare to find a black-and-white situation with no “grey” areas. Of course we want to help move the conflict through a process to resolution or compromise. So, how do individuals keep it all straight?

Consider your role as a human service provider. It’s likely that you are being asked to work with a conflict as a facilitator, mediator or moderator. When working within your role, it’s crucial to listen to both, or all, sides of the situation. That may sound easy, right? Just identify the two opposing views, listen to what they say and then create a recommendation. If only it happens that easily!

When you’re listening to both sides of a situation, you will learn about those involved in telling their story. Is their story 100 percent true? What about the other side? It’s evident that both sides can’t be telling their side exactly as it happened, 100 percent.

Why is that? MindfulConstruct suggests that stories aren’t objective, but rather, they are selective. They describe that this happens because humans aren’t capable of pure objectivity when telling stories for four distinct reasons:

  1. They perceive events subjectively in the first place, paying attention to certain details and ignoring others.
  2. Their subconscious cognitive networks from the way they perceive events.
  3. Once they gather their information, they make sense of it in a subjective (and often subconscious way).
  4. In making sense of their information, they naturally tend toward confirmation bias, where they bend or use the information in a way that supports their preexisting beliefs and assumptions.

So, what can we do as a facilitator, mediator or moderator? Remember that stories that are told from opposing viewpoints are told in this way because, consciously or subconsciously, they want you to believe them – 100 percent. A story is told to create excitement, passion or to evoke passion. Keep an eye on the larger picture, remember your unbiased role and do your best to move the conflict to a state of resolution or compromise.

For more articles related to this topic, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.