** Today I am welcoming Kassandra with a guest post on a really great conflict resolution tool: Reflective Listening.**
I have been at my wits end for years trying to end sibling rivalry. I don’t like it when my children fight, argue, disagree, or in any other way don’t seem to like each other. I’ve thought that conflict should be avoided. I’ve tried to distract them, separate them, give them each enough love and attention that they don’t need to fight with each other to get more from me. Nothing has worked. Meaning nothing has stopped my girls from arguing with each other and sometimes needling each other in ways that seem designed to provoke a fight. I’ll write another post about the benefits of conflict – along the way I’ve learned there are quite a few! – but for today, I’d like to share a tool that I completely doubted would work that has turned out to be incredibly helpful. That tool is reflective listening as shared with me from the model of restorative circles.
Reflective listening is very simple. So simple that it’s easy to skip it and go directly to addressing the issue. Afterall, when a fight is happening we want it to stop immediately, right? We’re here to get answers and obviously if I address the content of what you’re telling me you’re upset about then you’ll feel better and we can move on, right? Wrong. As it turns out, many if not all of us have a strong desire to be listened to. More than having our problems fixed, we want to feel heard. More than being given some thing that we’re asking for, we want to be listened to. More than hearing “I’m sorry”, we long to hear “I accept you just as you are.” Reflective listening can offer all of that.
So what is reflective listening? At level one, it is simply saying back to someone what they just said to you. In the beginning, it helps to keep your tone and body language as neutral as you can. For example:
Jas: I hate you!
Me: I hear you hate me.
That’s it. Don’t add anything. Don’t tell the speaker (Jas in this instance) not to talk to you like that. Don’t tell her she’s wrong or that you’re wrong or anything. Just reflect back to her what you heard.
At level two, you can add a question asking “Did I get it?” and “Is there more?” This often prompts the speaker (Jas) to offer more about her experience. For example:
Jas: I hate you!
Me: I hear you hate me. Did I get it?
Me: Is there more?
Jas: When you closed the door on me it hurt my elbow. You should have held it for me. You don’t love me. I hate you! (with tears)
Me: When I let the door close before you were through it hurt your elbow and you believe I should have held it for you. That means I don’t love you and you hate me. Did I get it?
Jas: (coming closer) my elbow hurts
Me: I hear your elbow hurts.
Jas: Can I have a hug? (we hug and I hold her as long as she wants to be held).
You may notice that my words did not reflect back to her exactly what she said. It is very tempting to use adult logic to twist a child’s words to make them sound like what we think they should be saying or what we think really happened. This makes the process more confusing and less helpful. It is also tempting and can be a good idea to add guesses about what the child was feeling or what they wanted instead of what happened. This way we use our more powerful adult vocabularies to help the child better understand themselves. Either way, we need to be careful to reflect with as much compassion and good intention as possible. Like all tools, reflective listening can be ineffective or even hurtful. It is our own good intentions and empathy that allow reflective listening to be a tool for healing.
Continuing to listen and reflect without adding my own justifications has been very powerful.
My daughter Jas is seven. Often just having the chance speak her mind and know I’m listening without jumping in and putting my adult logic on her is enough to shift her energy towards more peaceful interactions. Sometimes it takes more but reflecting back what I hear her saying and asking “Did I get it?” and “Is there more?” have been profoundly shifting of our conflict dynamics.
Would you like to give reflective listening a try? Please do and let me know how it goes, what you learn, and what you’d change.
Kassandra Brown is mom and parenting coach. She uses reflective listening extensively to support parents at http://parentcoaching.org. She finds that listening with deep compassion opens the door for each person’s own creative powers to flourish making conflict places of growth and change rather than just something to be avoided. If you are interested in an opportunity to work with Kassandra, a special offer is available for the first six parents/readers that visit http://parentcoaching.org/positiveparentingconnection to learn more about this offer.