Listening, in respect to disrespect

When was the last time you had a serious conversation that ended in bad feelings for all parties? What do you remember most – what started the conflict or how it ended? Most of us tend to forget everything but the hurt.

Whether we start out to have a reasonable talk about a minor misunderstanding or a major discussion about a relationship, as soon as one party feels disrespected, meaningful communication is derailed. We may not even realize that we are making the other person feel discounted or diminished, because it is so easy to do, especially around sensitive topics. Then we are left to wonder why the conversation was so frustrating and nonproductive and how we can ever settle anything.

It’s quite possible to misunderstand what your choice of words or tone of voice can convey from another person’s perspective. For example, you may think that approaching a serious subject lightly can help diffuse the tension. But if it sounds like you aren’t taking the topic seriously, doesn’t that mean you are not taking the person seriously either? If someone doesn’t feel they are being taken seriously, there is little reason for them to invest in a conversation; they know they won’t be truly heard.

Developing your listening skills can go a long way in helping resolve conflicts. The first step is to pay attention to how you express yourself. Keep your comments respectful, and ask others to do the same.

If you do hear the conversation getting off track because someone feels disrespected, it’s time to stop and deal with the real issue at hand. Once mutual respect is restored, it will be much easier to resolve whatever conflict started the discussion in the first place. And you will have built a much stronger foundation for really listening to each other in the future.

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