This article explores the concepts presented and explained exceedingly well by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton & Sheila Heen in their book, Difficult Conversations: How to Express What Matters Most (New York, Penguin Books, 1999). The principles in this book are applicable to difficult conversations, disputes and negotiations with your relatives, clients, law partners or opposing lawyers. I encourage you to read and study it.
Feelings matter: they are often at the heart of the dispute. Failing to listen to, acknowledge & discuss feelings can derail settlement negotiations. You cannot have an effective negotiation without a learning conversation about the primary interests and concerns at stake. Feelings are the business at hand and ignoring them is nearly impossible. Difficult Conversations, pp. 85-87. We certainly know this is true in family law disputes.
Each party’s feelings are important and must be listened to and acknowledged before the dispute can be resolved. Id. p. 93. Listen to the feelings, thoughts and perceptions of the other party without judging, attributing or blaming. Id. p. 104. Acknowledgement of feelings means letting the other party know that what they have said is important to you, that you care, that their feelings matter to you and are important to you, and that you value and respect their feelings. Id. pp. 106-107
Parties are more likely to reach an agreement when their feelings have been acknowledged, when they feel heard, understood and respected. Each party needs to learn the other party’s story. Id. pp. 137-138. Listening to the other party, helps the other party listen to you. “In the great majority of cases, the reason the other person is not listening to you is not because they are stubborn, but because they don’t feel heard. In other words, they aren’t listening to you for the same reason you aren’t listening to them: they think you are slow or stubborn.” Id. pp. 166-167. So they repeat themselves, find new ways to say the same things, talk more loudly and so forth. Solution: Help them feel heard. Bend over backwards to listen to their story and perhaps most importantly-demonstrate that you understand what they are saying and how they are feeling. Id. p. 167.
“Listening is only powerful and effective if it is authentic. Authenticity means that you are listening because you are curious and because you care, not just because you are suppose to. The issue, then, is this: Are you curious? Do you care?” Id. p. 168. Insincerity is usually very transparent, so be authentic.
Once a person feels heard and acknowledged, they are significantly more likely to listen to you. Id. p. 178. “It is a fundamental rule: feelings crave acknowledgement.” Id. p. 180. “Why is acknowledgement important? Because attached to each expression of feelings is a set of invisible questions: Are my feelings okay? Do you understand them? Do you care about them? Do you care about me? Taking time to acknowledge the other person’s feelings says loud and clear that the answer to each question is yes.” Id. p. 181.
“Listening is not only the skill that lets you into the other person’s world: it is also the single most powerful move you can make to keep the conversation constructive.” Id. p. 202. “You can’t move the conversation in a more positive direction until the other person feels heard and understood. And they won’t feel heard and understood until you have listened.” Id. p. 206
Persistence in a difficult conversation or negotiation means remaining as interested in hearing the other person’s view as you are in asserting your own. Id. p. 208. So listen, acknowledge and resolve.