Volume 3, Number 2, 2008
Peace is both a process and an outcome of careful communication. Like cooking that provides a sensorial feast during food preparation and nourishment afterwards, communication creates multiple contexts for peace. As we think about how we create the conditions in communication for peace, we realize how much personal power we have with language. Rather than ignoring unmet needs until violence attracts our attention to them, we actively listen for them in all types and contexts of communication. Types of communication are commonly considered in selection of optimal ways to manage and resolve conflict. Here we consider the contexts of listening for peace.
My body tells me of its needs. We observe to see what the corporeal self is evidencing. We identify our physical readiness for careful listening when we ask ourselves questions in self-checks. In what condition are my muscles; tight or relaxed, exhausted or rested? What are my hands and facial muscles doing as I think or communicate about a conflict now? How is my breathing, shallow or deep, fast or slow? How are my eyes? Am I fit to immediately work with conflict, or do I need a break from the problem to prepare my body and mind for that challenge? What would restore my ability to optimally communicate during this conflict? By listening to ourselves answer those questions, we recognize if we are an immediate context for peacemaking, or if we need to wait for physical readiness, which is often the case when we recognize high stress that has negatively affected our corporeal selves. That resting period is not idle while we continue to listen to ourselves.
My inner voice tells me my current thought pattern, which reveals my needs. While listening to ourselves, we identify our emotions and thinking process. Regardless of our context of solitude or in the company of others, we hear the voice in our head and analyze its messages. Again questions we have learned to ask ourselves aid identification of optimal contexts for peace work. What does my negative inner voice reveal? What need do I have that the negativity evidences? Have I disappointed myself and I now need self-forgiveness? Do negative scenarios of what could happen show my resentment, fear or anger? What is my inner voice telling me about my immediate and later needs? What feelings do our physical condition and inner voice reveal? If they evidence negative emotions, we have a goal of immediate self-care. We know stress-release is crucial for physical and mental relief, which subsequently supports clarity of thinking. We become our immediate own caretaker when intense feelings evidence danger to anyone.
While listening to the inner voice, we also identify the frame in which we are thinking. Naturally, we think with our personally unique perspectives, which are influenced by our life experiences and corresponding expectations. We may see perceive a bad situation because we feel negative emotions about it. Yet, in another frame of reference, we can change how we perceive the messages we hear. Reframing involves perspective change that allows us to hear from another’s point of reference. With a shift of frame, our inner voice can transform unproductive thoughts from negative emotions associated with our own unmet needs. Then we are ready to recognize others’ needs and co-create solutions for our shared problems. With such transformation, we can fully collaborate in conflict resolution.
My outer voice affects how I am heard. The ability to hear and the meaning conveyed derive from the style of communication, in addition to its content. Regardless of our uncomfortable feelings about a conflict situation, attention to our style of communicating about it is crucial for the ability of others to hear, or even listen to us. Self-mediation of interpersonal communication enhances hearing what we wish to convey. How does my spoken tone, loudness, speed and choice of language or language style affect the understanding of those who hear me?
My attention to another influences how and what I am being told. In self-monitoring during conflict we check on how we demonstrate our listening. In crossing cultural boundaries, we change our norms and expectations for communication style, and content. What are relevant and appropriate topics to openly discuss vary across cultures. Culturally respectful engagement with ‘the other’ precedes a focus on message content. How am I evidencing respectful listening? A clarification process evidences listening and aids understanding. Are you feeling --------? Do you need --------? We ask for confirmation of our understanding of the feelings and needs of our peace partners in conflict situations.
During conflict communication, how can listening to others who are opinionated help us? Their negative as well as positive judgments of anything are windows for viewing their own needs. Conversely, encouragement for us reveals possibilities to consider and visioning opportunities, which have been crucial to peace development. Demands of others reveal their needs as well as ours; analysis of our goals and the needs of others who depend on us. We identify which parts of their goals are common with ours, which can be the foundation of our constructed problem solution.
Contexts for listening are important. Choosing a time and place to focus on listening to others in our lives sustains and restores community. Consequently, we arrange for optimal listening situations. While optimal situations for listening to self and others have been very helpful in peacemaking, skills of listening always have potential for immediate transformation of conflict. In this edition of the journal we offer examples of different listening contexts. We invite you to share with us how careful listening occurred in the process of peace development.
Author: Candice C. Carter, P h.D.
Author: Jodi H. Beyeler
Author: Omar Ali*, as told to Barbara Smythe
Author: Mary Jane V. Jorolan, M.S.
Artist: Patricia Mikkelson
Artist: Carl Scharnberg