Can You Listen? Can You Repeat Back What Was Said?


Dispute resolvers from around the country assembled last week to learn from each other about how to use conflict resolution processes in a wide array of disputes from intellectual property to securities to healthcare. The American Bar Association sponsors this annual gathering in the spring of each year, providing exceptional presenters each time. 2018 was no different.

A program theme was how to foster group dialogue to bridge differences of opinion that are becoming more heated and destructively so. Heard again and again was, “We have a societal problem that is worsening.”  (Noted journalist of Watergate fame, Carl Bernstein, is said to have coined the term “cold civil war” to describe our current state of disunity.)

Genuine “peace talks” are too few. We do not listen well to each other anymore. One answer is that listening to each other effectively will change the tone and tenor of dialogue around important issues about which people in our diverse country have various ideas and opinions.

Tom Friedman of the NY Times, US Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia, leaders from the Divided Community Project at Ohio State’s St. Moritz College of Law, and others sounded this vital lesson. We must be in more of a hurry to listen well than to assert our own messages. We must want to learn so we can generate new ideas for resolutions.

In mediation training trainees are taught that we all have a deep hunger to be heard. Being well listened to has a remarkable effect on party conduct in a mediation process, and on a person’s ultimate willingness to compromise.

Well, you may wonder, how does listening often and well fit in with my previous post, “Keep Talking?” "Keep talking" refers to continuing dialogue, respectfully and in good faith, showing that you want to understand, that you care.

I was struck by a soft-spoken and effective trainer at the ABA meeting who as a West Point Army officer runs the negotiation training program there. He has deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq repeatedly where he has used the lessons he teaches. One such lesson used in the military stood out: ask the question, “What is_______?” whenever possible and wait for the answers. Show good faith and genuine curiosity when asking and communicating. This has “armed” our military abroad with great power to create peace rather than fight.

Coming back to mention of our so-called “cold civil war” within our country, what will you begin to do to avert its conflagration?   

Jeanne Franklin