Listening to Solve Problems

One of the most successful approaches to solving disputes comes from the Native American aphorism: “Before we can truly understand another person, we must walk a mile in that person’s moccasins.” Before we can walk in another person’s moccasins, we must first take off our own. This means to perceive as  with the other person’s eyes, ears, mind, and spirit.

One of the deepest desires of humans is to be understood. But how do you do it? The talking stick is one approach. One reason for its success is that it uses something tangible. The “stick” can be a spoon, a stuffed animal, or any object that serves as something that can be held and passed from one person to another.

When meeting to resolve an issue, the talking stick is present. Only the person holding the stick is permitted to speak until that person is satisfied that everyone understands. To be understood does not mean to agree. The procedure is that others are not permitted to make their own points, argue, agree, or disagree. They may need to restate the point to make sure the person feels understood, or the person may just simply feel that all understand.

As soon as the person holding the stick feels understood, the stick is passed to another person. As that person shares, all listen. The others may be required to restate and empathize until that person is understood. Using this approach, all parties are responsible for 100 percent of the communications—both speaking and listening. Once each of the parties feels understood, an amazing thing happens. The focus naturally shifts to problem solving. Negative energy decreases, ill feelings evaporate, mutual respect grows, and people become creative.

An underlying reason for the success of this approach is that the goal is to clarify, rather than to influence. As you may experience in many situations, when the objective is to clarify, the result often leads to influence.