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Evaluating criticism through active listening

By DENNIS DOUGHTY • Sep 7, 2018 at 10:00 AM

We have some pretty good and spirited conversations in our household when our adult children are at home, especially in this political climate.

I can count on all of them to have an opinion and it likely won’t mesh with my own thoughts. I encourage and challenge them to justify their argument, which doesn’t always happen to my satisfaction.

I recently had a conversation with one of my children where they threw me that universal criticism, “You always take their side in an argument.” My initial reaction was to shoot back a negative comment because it did make me defensive (and ticked me off). Then I thought about some of my conflict resolution training and was able to change the whole conversation.

“Now, how many times have you seen me do that?” The question allowed both of us to reflect without reacting emotionally. I asked myself, “Do I take sides in an argument or is it an isolated incident?”

If I have a pattern of siding with someone without listening to both sides, I am guilty as charged. Do I pay attention to the organized argument or do I analyze the actual thought process, itself? It is a soul-searching exercise if you take it seriously. Overall, it’s a great reflective exercise and it gives you a chance to look at yourself through the eyes of another.

In this case I decided I likely was guilty of taking sides, so I asked, “what do you think I should do about it? “How can I make things better?” Interestingly, the answer was, don’t change anything now, but remember that you jump to conclusions in the future and don’t get “mad” if we disagree with you. While I was put firmly in my place, I decided it was well-intentioned and richly deserved.

I avoided a protracted argument where there would be no winners and was able to reflect instead of reacting. It is a great tool to put in your toolbox — whether you are dealing with co-workers, parents, students or family members. It is a highly effective way to hone your listening skills. Now if I can just remember to listen first before reacting in the future, I might be much more effective and will avoid an angry response.

Local columnist Dennis Doughty is the Norwalk Catholic School president.

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