One of the best ways to avoid conflict and engage fruitfully is to listen.

Such a powerful tool:

  • Stand in your garden.

  • Look over your garden wall and get curious.

  • Ask questions.

  • Listen to the answers.

What I mean, of course, is active listening,

the art of opening to other people’s words without cluttering your attention with thoughts of how you will respond, giving yourself the opportunity to notice things like body language, emotions (your own included), what is not said. Feeding back what you’ve heard to make sure you’ve got it right.

Letting someone else’s garden, someone else’s reality, exist without any argument or contest. Without threat to yourself because

it’s their garden, their reality. Not yours.

I think people fear conflict because they assume they have to be guilty when they’re blamed or feel wounded when insulted or submit mutely to a steam roller attack. This is just not true. From the relative safety of our own gardens, we can hear and witness other people’s truths without taking them on. We can listen and wonder and ask questions. We can make good guesses about why they see the world the way they do.

We can validate other realities without invalidating our own.

For me, active listening is a muscular act, one that requires I consciously commit to stilling myself, paying attention, and engrossing myself in the other. I find that, when I do this, I actually feel quite safe even if I’m talking to someone who is angry or accusing.

Of course, I also commit to tending my garden: owning what is mine, making amends for what I’ve done, managing my own internal critic. If I am to listen effectively, I must have confidence that I can handle the data I gather. That is my work, and it almost always requires caring support, which we all deserve.

Betsy BurrisComment