When engaged in a difficult conversation, how you listen matters—when listening well, you should be actively paying attention to what the other person is saying, trying to understand their point of view, and acknowledging their thoughts and feelings, rather than just hearing what they say and waiting for your chance to rebut, correct, or give your point of view. If you listen well, you are much more likely to respond rather than react to what is being said. According to Psychology Today, a reaction is instant, emotional, based on your beliefs and biases, and is often rooted in your unconscious mind—while a response comes more slowly, and is based on information from both your conscious and unconscious mind. Reactions are often defensive and anti-relational, while responses are generally more considerate and take more than one point of view, hence are more pro-relational. In short, a response is based in reflection and logic, while a reaction often arises from an emotionally dysregulated state. The intention behind each, and the consequences that follow them, can be completely different.
Think about broaching a serious or difficult topic or conversation; one in which a frustration or complaint needs to be addressed, hurt feelings need to be shared, or a difference needs to be negotiated. Would you rather the other person react immediately and emotionally, with defensiveness, victimhood, righteousness, indignation, blame, withdrawal, criticism, contempt, etc. or would you rather they take the time to try to understand where you are coming from, attempt to see things from a perspective other than just their own, and think through the impact of how they respond? If this is your preference, then you also owe it to them and to the relationship to return the favor.
Going forward, actively challenge yourself to respond more than you react—you might find that conflicts are more easily resolved, negotiations are more successful, and your relationship improves. Who wouldn’t want this?
Until next time, peace.