Constructive Steps In Handling Conflict Step Three: Listen Attentively.
“When Phinehas the priest and the chiefs of the congregation, the heads of the families of Israel who were with him, heard the words that the people of Reuben and the people of Gad and the people of Manasseh spoke, it was good in their eyes.”
- Joshua 22:30 (ESV).
Being an instrument of peace requires that we learn to handle conflict. Joshua 22 provides us with remarkable insight into helping us navigate strife. We’ve already observed two steps: 1) Get the facts before you react, and 2) Clarify the facts with a qualified team.
Although the western tribes reacted quickly, they tempered their decision by agreeing to ascertain the facts. To do so, they selected qualified, respected leaders — those familiar with the nature of the conflict and leaders valued by Israel to gain understanding. They refused to allow assumptions to encourage war.
The representatives of the western tribes come to the table with an open mind to discover what prompted the eastern tribes to construct an altar. Listening well requires not only laying aside our assumptions. To “clearly” hear requires time, openness, and trust. Phinehas and the western representatives not only listened to the words of the eastern tribes but what they heard was “good in their eyes.”
A grave issue that would have justified war was avoided because people could listen attentively to each other.
Imagine what clarity can occur during conflict when people are willing to listen. People feel valued and respected when heard.
Here are a few suggestions to help us become better listeners:
Learn to face the person speaking and look them in the eye. Avoidance of the person or an unwillingness to engage them with eye contact sends a message that though we are present, we’ve removed ourselves from an honest discussion. Our body posture and facial expressions tell others whether we are “open” or “closed” to hear.
Stop interrupting. How many times have you had someone interrupt you? It is frustrating and suggests that what you have to say isn’t worth hearing. Interrupting someone when they are speaking is disrespectful.
Guard your emotions. Reacting emotionally to what’s being said always derails attentive listening.
Quit planning what you’re going to say next. You can’t listen while preparing your reply.
Demonstrate you are listening. A smile, nod, or an expression of “uh huh,” visibly acknowledge your engagement and encourage the speaker to continue.
Avoid giving your opinions or solutions. The person sharing wants you to hear them. It’s tempting for me to want to offer an idea, solution, or opinion. Perhaps it’s because that’s easier than listening.
Ask clarifying and open questions. “Did you mean that …” or, “I’m not sure if I understood what you were saying about …” “You mentioned that …” “How did that make you feel?” What did you do next?”
Paraphrase and summarize. “If I heard you, it sounds as if you were saying …” Or “What I heard you say is …” “Did I hear you correctly?”
While I wasn’t at the table with Phinehas and his colleagues, I can certainly imagine they engaged in some of the above principles of constructive listening.
We recognize that someone was able to clarify the misunderstanding. The false assumptions became invalid, and unity regained. When the western tribes had listened attentively to the eastern tribe’s explanation, “it was good in [everyone’s] eyes.
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