Just because people live in the same house doesn’t mean they live in the same world. There are numerous examples of this from listening to people describing a situation. Two people describing how a dispute started can have entirely different stories; supporters of opposing sides describing a football match seem to have watched different games; and witnesses to a crime can’t agree whether the culprit was a small female or a large bearded male.
People communicate from their own interests, abilities and the meanings they have for things. So, two people can interpret a scenario very differently. You are the expert on your needs, and how you would like those needs to be met. No one else knows your problems like you do, because you live those problems, and you know what you can do and what you can't do. Each person is an expert on their own needs, so we should all listen to the experts. Some of the reasons we don’t listen are:
1. We think that ‘to listen’ means ‘to agree’ with what is being said.
2. We already know the answer to the problem and can’t wait to reveal it.
3. We are afraid if we listen we might come to agree and have to change.
4. We have to win every argument because we lose face when we lose an argument.
5. We have slipped into the habit of letting our thoughts wander to other things.
6. We are too busy thinking up what we are going to say as soon as we get the chance.
The list could go on but these will do to illustrate the point that listening is not easy. You have to put effort into listening so you understand the other person's world. Then you can check your understanding by asking the expert; the person you were listening to. Simply say what you believe was meant by what was said. In other words, paraphrase to make sure you understood the message. ‘Now let me see if I heard you correctly. What you said was......... and you were frustrated by this. Is that right?’ The person will either say, ‘Yes, that's exactly right’ or will correct you until you get it right.
When you listen to others you can expect to be shown the same courtesy. If you are interrupted, say something like, ‘I listened to you so I could understand your view and now I want you to do the same for me’. Another advantage is that your reply is based on a sound understanding of the other person's views. You have more influence because the points you raise can include their views; what you disagree with and what you agree with. You may find that the area of dispute will shrink considerably because understanding brings out the virtue of compassion, which cannot live alongside aggression.
Being open and honest about your view generally leads to identifying the real problem. Unfortunately our competitive world teaches us to hold back and not trust each other with information that could be used against us. Putting the viewpoint in terms of safety and fairness helps get over this hurdle because it’s easier and less threatening. Being open and honest means taking a chance.
The usual image people have of conflict involves some form of violence or heated argument but conflict can be as simply as two people wanting to use the toothpaste at the same time. You may think these minor incidents are too insignificant to qualify as conflicts but they can provide a clue to problems in the relationship. It isn't the size of the incident that matters. The way it’s handled can lead to a big blow-up. The use of the toothpaste may be the trigger that ignites a powder keg of resentment about an unequal relationship in which one has 'had enough'. It could also be the focal point of a clash of egos that could end in bloodshed because each is driven to maintain dignity or self-esteem.
Regardless of whether we are talking about conflict in a family, at work or community, the same deceptively simple conflict resolution guidelines apply. People who respect each other listen until they understand the other’s views before honestly stating their own views, tend to seek solutions that meet the needs of all involved.