Mediation and Empathetic Listening Part One
Today, I start a three part series of blogs about the skill of Empathic Listening when mediating for conflict resolution. Being able to listen “empathically” may be the most useful tool a mediator has. Being able to truly understand people’s point of view can go a long way to helping them reach a resolution. Listening with “empathy” is different from listening with “sympathy”.
If I listen with “sympathy” to someone in conflict, I will share in their emotion. I will take part of it. While that may make one, or both, feel better. Sympathy will do little for establishing a constructive strategy to deal with issues. Simply put, if I have sympathy, I share in someones emotion. The result will be that now both of us will feel that emotion. Not very helpful to creating a positive conflict resolution.
When I listen with “empathy” I seek to deepen my understanding of that person. I listen to better understand their needs, their hopes, their fears. I really need to be able to “walk in their shoes.” I am not sharing emotions as one would with sympathy. I am trying to understand the root of their emotions. Empathic listening does many things. It deepens my understanding. It allows people to “accept” their emotions as valid. It clarifies important issues that need to be resolved. It allows clients to be more accepting of the other person’s point of view. It encourages helpful and purposeful conversation.
How Empathetic Listening Relates to Mediation
Empathic listening empowers clients to actively join into the mediation process. A skilled mediator can create an environment of safety and security. Which can encourage clients to discuss issues. To have conversations that have purpose and are helpful. Using empathic listening skills, a sense of respect can be established. Parties can be guided towards their own resolution and agreement. This is important. Through effective listening and questioning, clients move away from “combative” issues – like blaming and accusing. And move towards “collaborative” issues – like clarifying and creating alternatives.
When I listen well it sets the stage for helpful conversation. Negative emotions that are not helpful are dealt with. I deal with unhelpful emotions in a respectful manner. This is important. Emotions are personal. They belong to the person. The must be considered valid. When emotions are ignored or disregarded tension and conflict rise. I make a point of facing, accepting and exploring emotions during mediations. I find that people respect that. They feel that they are being heard. Once the negative emotions are dealt with, people find it easier to focus on important issues. How are we going to resolve this?
I hope this gives you an idea of the benefits of Empathic Listening. Next blog will deal with how to listen with empathy.
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