Effective Conflict Resolution

Active Listening

Most of us operate under the assumption that we are rational beings. When we have a conflict with someone, we assume that if only the other person knew what we knew, of course they would come to the same rational conclusions that we do and agree with us. As a result, we feel compelled to tell the other person our point of view. Unfortunately, the other person is operating under the same premise, and they can not rest until they have told us their point of view. As a result, we get stuck in an apparently endless and unproductive loop known as arguing. You may recognize this phenomenon when recalling unpleasant interactions with your teen. Active listening is a simple but effective technique that will reduce the level of hostility and stress that you and your teen feel during any conflict, setting the stage for effective conflict resolution.

Step 1. Listen: Understand Your Teen’s Point of View

This is the hardest part for most parents. It sounds  easy - just stop talking and listen!  But this is very hard.  Be patient-not only will you have a chance to get your point across later, but you will greatly increase your chances of  being heard if you are willing to listen first.  You may feel that you are wasting your time; you already know what your teenager thinks. You may know - you may not. Either way, if your teen does not know that you know, you truly are wasting your time. Some anxiety may also come from confusing understanding with acceptance. You may think that if you understand your teenager’s point of view that you are validating that point of view and signaling agreement. However, understanding and agreement are two VERY different things. You may understand the anger that drives a terrorist (or teenager, hard to tell the difference sometimes) but that does no mean that  you agree with their conclusions or actions!

Step 2. Check Your Understanding

After carefully listening to your teen, show them that you understand their point of view. Make sure you do this on two levels: the emotional and the factual. Demonstrating EMOTIONAL UNDERSTANDING must come first.  You can emotionally check in with your teen by simply stating “You seem (emotion).”  Pause and wait for validation. If you are right, your teen may say something like “Of course I am angry!” or nod or give some other gesture of agreement. If they tell  you that you are wrong, try again or ask them to tell you. They may need help sorting out their emotions. Help them -  “do you feel jealous, disrespected, taken for granted, etc.”  Once you have correctly identified their feelings, you will have a much better connection than you did just moments before.  Now check in with them about their facts and reasons. Again, you can simply state: “You feel (emotion) because (facts and reasons)”.   Ask for clarification and keep checking until they let you know that you have got it right.  The amount of tension at this point will be down to less than 10% of where it was when you started. You will have in fact reestablished a healthy connection with your teen. They will feel heard and respected.   Now it is your turn to be heard. Real problem solving can then begin in earnest.