Listening like an Owl

Listening like an Owl

Reading time: 2 min

A few weeks back, I mediated a case where one of the parties kept talking before the other party was finished, and started every sentence with “But…”

That’s a kind of predatory listening, and I see it regularly. When people engage in predatory listening, they aren’t listening to understand. They’re listening to contradict, to dismiss, to cut down, to rip up the other person and the other person’s perspective. In other words, they’re like metaphorical vultures in how they listen: they prey, greedily and unscrupulously.

Vultures have their place in the natural world; in fact, they perform a necessary function, a kind of biological recycling. But in mediation and any other kind of conflict resolution, people who listen as vultures end up harming themselves. That’s because they keep themselves from understanding the other person’s perspective, and what the other person needs.

The more you understand what the other person needs, the better you can offer them things that they need, and the more likely you are to get from them what you need. If you listen to understand, you’re – again, metaphorically –listening as owls listen: wisely, to gather insight and understanding.

Here are three signs of predatory listening:

  • repeatedly starting to speak before the other person has finished, to stop them from speaking;
  • starting each sentence with “but,” “no,” or another contradicting word;
  • planning, while the other person is speaking, how you’ll contradict them.

If you observe any of these signs in yourself, remind yourself that you’re harming your own ability to get what you need out of the resolution.

Here’s what you can do to listen for understanding:

  • sit in curiosity, be in curiosity (another way to think of this is, continually be curious);
  • listen as though everything the other person says is wholly and completely the truth (you can change your mind later);
  • start every sentence with “Yes, and…,” if not verbally then mentally.

When you listen as owls do, for understanding, you can better understand what the other person needs. If you know what they need, you can offer it to them. That will make them more likely to be generous, so you get what you need when you’re resolving a dispute.

Photo credit: Stuart Rankin, (CC BY-NC 2.0.

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