Essentially, we humans go about our day-to-day business selectively interpreting our environment. Which really means that we are always at least a little bit wrong about what we think are facts. Naturally, the differences in our interpretations give rise to arguments. The least artful of which involves two people repeating their positions by using slightly different words at increasing volume.
But what if we could slip into another person’s skin and take their view of matters for a spin? See through their eyes and also have the ability to sense their feelings and process information using their filters and experiences. In times of conflict, such a skill would help us communicate from a place of deeper understanding.
What’s at stake when we fail to consider another’s viewpoints depends on the question at hand. Most of our daily interactions probably fall into the whatever category. It’s not earth shattering if you and I don’t agree on how best to load a dishwasher. Although, even this rises to a surprising level of frustration in many homes.
True challenges, however, present themselves when people have disagreements about fundamental issues with those they care about or depend on. And, when the stakes are high, we are unfortunately likely to feel the need to defend our positions more fiercely. There is an underlying assumption that if I accept your viewpoint, I admit a fault about mine. And most of us are not great at admitting when we are wrong.
Wouldn’t it be great if when it really mattered we could employ the slip into your skin for a moment technique of understanding? We could then see that maybe we are both right! Short of such a mystical method for conflict resolution there is a practical starting point for better understanding— really listening to one another. It sounds deceptively simple but it’s not.
Most of us have not been trained to be good listeners. We are more interested in how matters relate to our own views. When someone you are in conflict with is describing his or her point, it is likely that you are thinking about your reply. Beefing up important points to make when it’s your turn to talk again. Truly listening to someone, however, is not compatible with simultaneously formulating your offense or defense. It requires focus on the speaker and begins with just trying to absorb the details and cues about the emotions and experiences that they choose to share.
In divorce mediation, couples are faced with resolving issues around high stakes and often emotionally charged questions. When they can overcome the need to have their version be the winner, it leaves space for both people to fill in the details of a more complete story. Couples who remain open to one another’s perspective provide each other the opportunity to delve into areas that are meaningful and lead to more comprehensive, satisfactory settlements.
Trying and succeeding to see things from another viewpoint can be enlightening and rewarding. You may try this at home.