A few weeks ago, a colleague Esther C. Bleuel posted an article about hearing and listening, noting that the only thing these two concepts have in common is our two ears. As we know, "hearing" is not the same as "listening." To quote Ms. Bleuel, "...the purpose of listening is understanding, and active listening requires thoughtful attention to the meaning being conveyed."

Ms. Bleuel then asks the rhetorical question, "Why is listening important?" Her answer is simple: to feel connected and to have "authentic interaction" with others:

"Active listening leads to authentic interaction with others, often inspiring folks to explore their own attitudes and values. The idea is to think with others instead of for or about them in judgmental or critical ways." (Emphasis original) (Id.)

Why don't people listen? According to Ms. Bleuel, it is because of our lack of time and our attention spans. We think much faster than we speak and so become impatient when listening to others. This creates a gap of time allowing us to become distracted. Our brain races ahead to what we want to say in response before hearing everything the other person is saying.

As a result of our "poor" listening, (or responding without first truly listening to what the other person has said!), we will not truly understand the issue because we did not "listen to what they mean". (Id.) As Ms. Bleuel points out, "Conflict and misunderstanding often occur as a result of failure to seek accurate understanding of a situation." (Id.)

Obviously, the remedy is to give full and complete attention to the other person, focusing on what and only on what she is saying, and ignoring all distractions. "Try to understand the speaker's meaning before you think about your own opinions and take note of non-verbal cues like body language and tone... experience the message from the speaker's perspective" (Id.)

I focus on this topic of active listening because I conducted a mediation the other day in which there was no "listening", active or otherwise. Plaintiff made her demand in a separate session with me. When I attempted to discuss the facts and issues with Defendant, she was dismissive- not at all interested in the facts or reasoning behind Plaintiff's demand. Its basis simply did not matter. In response to Plaintiff's monetary demand, defendant advised she was offering a particular amount; that was all she had- there was no more and she would not consult with her client about the possibility of obtaining more. She had absolutely no interest in looking at the issue from plaintiff's perspective.

When I conveyed defendant's offer to plaintiff, she made a good faith attempt to negotiate by lowering her demand. Defendant's response was the same the amount- that was it!

It was a short mediation, and I am not sure why the parties even came to mediate. There was no "active listening" or even "listening" or negotiation. As a result, the next stop will be the courtroom.

One wonders at times, what makes people do what they do!

....Just something to think about.

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By Phyllis G. Pollack

Phyllis G. Pollack is a full time neutral in Los Angeles where, as President of PGP Mediation, she focuses on business, real estate, contract and “lemon law” disputes. She may be reached at Phone: 213-630-8810 / phyllis@pgpmediation.com / Website: www.pgpmediation.com