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  • Writer's pictureGeraldine Waxman, ESQ.

Is Listening 'Really' Hearing?

Updated: Oct 6, 2020

Most often, this is not the case. People "listen" in order to respond. Frequently, and by way of example, a person initiated a conversation only to have the other person either interrupt in order to respond or, rapidly respond the moment the speaker finishes their thought. Is that truly "listening to make a conscious effort to hear?" Probably not. In order to "hear" someone and in order to properly make that conscious effort one must think for a moment on what the other person has said, to "digest their thought" and weigh their words prior to response. As mediators we owe it to the participants to ensure that they really "hear" each other. 

We accomplish this with conversational guidelines (a/k/a ground rules). Too often we mediators in our Opening Statements role down a list of "to do and not to do" when discussing the ground rules. To whose benefit are these ground rules? On the one hand it's the mediator who in order to assist the participants must listen and respond to help both sides. Frequently this is why many mediators request a "one at a time" ability to talk to each party. But really, whose ground rules (or "conversational guidelines" ) should they be? And who do they benefit? Since it is the parties mediation, certainly it is for the parties to choose their own guidelines with the assistance of the mediator to determine the rules for conversation. 

The crucial goal is learning to communicate in such a way that they both listen and hear each other. It is the umbrella under which they operate and it is at the core of mediation. It behooves the mediator therefore to help the participants in learning a technique that would assist them in both. Thus their first agreement is picking a method of communication of the parties choice that will both help them to listen to as well as hear each other. 

To explore the benefits of correct communication as a conversational guideline is one of the most important tools in the mediator's toolbox. It lays at the commencement of every mediation. The mediator, by showing the parties that the methodology of communication will go far for each, will be assisting both in such a way that they can work toward a comfortable resolution of their disagreements.

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