Compassionate Listening

Everywhere you look, people are fighting over something. They fight over big things: religion, land ownership, taxes. They fight over little things: who gets the last Oreo, what time is bedtime, who will take the dog out in the middle of the night.

Yes, people can bicker and argue. They often do. But there is another way to solve problems: compassionate listening.

Compassion does not force its viewpoint on others. It does not try to argue the other side to the ground.

At the same time, compassion does not ignore disagreement.

Compassion, instead, seeks to understand. Compassion looks at the issue and asks where the other viewpoint comes from.

You may think that “compassion” is not the way to win a fight. And it may not be. But compassionate listening can be a way to resolve a problem.

By seeking to understand the opposing viewpoint, you may see a side to the problem that you didn’t see before. You will be able to persuade your opponent better because you can take their viewpoint into account in your arguments better.

In fact, one of the most widely-read books on negotiation, Getting to Yes by William Ury, advocates compassionate listening. Without using the word “compassion”, he recommends (among other things):

  • attack the problem that needs to be addressed without attacking the people with opposing viewpoints
  • Instead of sticking with your position, focus on what you really want

For example, two brothers both want the last Oreo but can’t both have it. (Purely hypothetical, really.) The brother using compassionate listening would:

  • argue that he wants the Oreo without bringing up his brother’s stinky breath
  • Focus on what he really wants (chocolate) rather than solely on getting the Oreo.

If the brothers are able to talk rather than fight, they may discover that while one wants chocolate, the other wants cream filling. (Great! Then they can share the cookie.) Or that Mom has brownies in the oven. Or a million other ways to resolve the problem.

At the very least, the brother who listens compassionately does not escalate the fight.


Over 1,000 people are writing today about “compassion.” If you look at the #1000Speak hashtag, you will see hundreds of blog posts, as well as videos, podcasts, vlogs, and other various media about compassion. 

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Valentine’s Day Coffee

Photo by Ballistik_Coffee_Boy, courtesy of Creative Commons

Photo by Ballistik_Coffee_Boy, courtesy of Creative Commons

If we were having coffee …

First, I would apologize for the mess in my living room. My children have been having a great time taking toys out of their playroom to play with in the living room. For some reason, Cassatt is afraid of the playroom and won’t go in there. I have asked them to clean up, and when they did, they put everything in the doorway of the playroom. So now the entrance to that room is blocked.

Did you do anything for Valentines Day? Hubs and I went to a local brewery for dinner, then walked to an indie bookstore to browse. The bookstore was quite an experience. A customer, who the owner obviously knew well, walked in and asked if she had space for a piece of artwork. The owner went off on him about how she cannot accept gifts from him, he is a customer, not a friend, he takes advantage of her hospitality and she is going to be more firm with boundaries. Did I mention she couldn’t accept gifts from this customer? This exchange must have lasted 5-10 minutes, it was rather awkward for us as we tried to be inconspicuous in the bookshelves. I’m going to assume that we were there at an unusual time and will probably go back, as long as that doesn’t happen next time I go in there!

It is good to see you. I have been locked in the infirmary this week–first Cassatt was sick, then Hubs, then at the end of the week I got sick. Amazingly, my body held out long enough for me to go to my meeting on Thursday. Did I tell you I got some work? I did some education advocacy this week and really had a good time doing it. Enough so that I decided to sign up as a volunteer advocate for our state’s P&A. P&As are disability advocates (there’s one in every US state) that help parents advocate for their kids’ educational needs.

I might brainstorm with you about topics for my 1000 Voices for Compassion blog post. Have you heard about #1000Speak? It is 1,000 people (more, I believe) that have committed to posting about compassion on February 20. The goal is to flood the internet with compassion and to form a community of compassionate people. I signed up for it about a month ago, and I still haven’t written my post. And February 20 is this week! Are you participating? What is your topic?

I know you want to get to the store and home before it starts snowing. We’re supposed to get between 4 and 10 inches of snow tonight. That’s not a lot compared to many places in the country, but we haven’t had significant snowfall yet this winter in St. Louis so it’s a big deal here. I went to the grocery store yesterday and it was packed with people filling their refrigerators before the storm.

Have a great week!


This post is part of a link up hosted by Part Time Monster.

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