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In beginning to be a better listener, we must first define what good listening is all about. It is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding between the two parties. Not just hearing the words spoken, but understanding them and communicating thoughts back to the speaker in a clear and concise manner. Listening is a skill that needs to learned and practiced. It involves not only what is heard, but also the interpretation of tone of voice and body language.

Many people are poor listeners, even in everyday life. They tend to listen and think about something else at the same time. This happens even more frequently when people are in conflict. Rather than carefully attending to what the other person has said, many people think about their response while the other person is talking. In addition, they tend to interpret things to coincide with the views that they already have. For this reason, they assume they know and understand what other people are saying, because they assume that it corresponds to their own expectations about what the person is likely to say or "should" be saying.

Since people in conflict tend to develop hostile and distrustful images of the other, their interpretation of things the other side says or does is also likely to be hostile and distrustful. Ambiguous messages are interpreted in the worst possible way; even clear messages tend to be ignored or disregarded, if they are inconsistent with one's original negative view.

Such poor listening makes good communication almost impossible. No matter how much care one person or group takes to communicate their concerns, values, interests, or needs in a fair, clear, unthreatening way, if the listener is not willing to receive that information in that way, the communication will fail.

Although all people communicate all the time, most have difficulty communicating effectively in conflict situations. Practicing communication skills can have a very beneficial effect on conflict management and resolution processes.

There are many skills that can be learned which will improve communication in conflict situations. One of the most important is active listening. The goal of active listening (or reflective listening) is to understand you opponent as well as you understand yourself. Pay close attention to what the other side is saying. Ask the opponent to clarify or repeat anything that is unclear or seems unreasonable. Attempt to repeat their case, as they have presented it, back to them. This shows that you are listening and that you understand what they have said. It does not indicate that you agree with what they said, nor do you have to. You just need to indicate that you do understand them.

Dialogic listening is an alternative to active listening. Dialogic listening has four distinctive characteristics. First, it emphasizes conversation as a shared activity. It encourages people to attend to their own views--and the other person's views--at the same time, while active listening focuses primarily on the other person's views alone. Second, it takes an open-ended attitude toward conversation. It demands modesty, humility, trust, and recognition of the opponent as a choice-maker. Third, the parties focus on what is happening between them, not what is going on in the mind of one or the other person. And fourth, dialogic listening focuses on the present, rather than on the future or on the past. In this way, parties can work together to frame the nature of their problem, can come to a new understanding about each other, their relationships, and the options before them. While the same outcomes can occur by using active listening, dialogic listening is more of a joint process, and thus is more likely to yield a shared understanding of the problem, and potentially a shared solution.

If you want to become a good listener you need to achieve all of the following. Good listeners understand that listening is not easy and they resist the temptation to let their minds wander. They focus all their attention on the speaker and do their best to make the person feel important. Good listeners don't pass judgment and they don't shut the speaker out if they don't agree with something the speaker is saying. They make an effort to see the world as the speaker sees it. Good listeners prove they're focused on the speaker through their body language, such as smiling, nodding, and eye contact. Good listeners do this by remembering speakers' names, what they talked about, and other concerns they voiced. Good listeners monitor their thoughts for negativity and make sure those thoughts don't turn into words that could hurt coworkers or employees.

People are not born with good listening skills. It is a talent that needs to be developed-- and practiced. Good listeners realize that the more they practice the better listeners they will be.