Blog: Engaged Listening on the Path to Coming to Peace
By Isa Gucciardi, Ph.D.
Editors’ note: The following is an excerpt from Isa’s book, Coming to Peace.
There truly is a wellspring of peace within each of us. To reach it, we must look in the most surprising place: right in the heart of conflict. When we examine our conflicts with others, a light shines on all the places where we have moved away from this wellspring. Conflict—and the path we must embark on to resolve it—serves as a beacon guiding us back to our inner peacefulness. To get there, we must first learn to recognize the kind of “light” or awareness that our conflicts with others are offering us.
Often it isn’t until we’ve wandered far away from that place of inner peace and calmness that we encounter problems in our relationships with others. Through these disruptions, we are given the opportunity to gain awareness about the issues that are blocking access to our inner peace. By examining our struggles with others, we learn how conflict ultimately leads us back to this place of peace within ourselves.
However, this path is not an easy one. It is a radical practice to head toward our conflicts, rather than succumb to the urge to run away. But if we stay and do the work, we’ll give ourselves the best chance we’ll have at experiencing a lighter, more contented existence. If we stick with it, the Coming to Peace process will serve as a trusted guide on our journey to wholeness.
The first step of Coming to Peace is recognizing that conflict is a natural part of every relationship. Certainly we can all relate to experiencing disharmonies with family members, friends, or colleagues at one time or another; this is normal and to be expected. But if we’ve become trapped in a cycle of discontent with the people in our lives, then it might be time to examine the situation more closely.
Trouble most often begins when an imbalance of power occurs, leaving one person overshadowed by the other. If one person’s voice is continuously ignored in favor of another’s, conflict inevitably arises. These types of power dynamics are at play in almost every group, including families, business organizations, and groups of friends. Within these groups there are natural hierarchies that emerge and alliances that form. The first and most influential group we experience is our family. Within family systems, power is usually concentrated in a small number of members, often one or both parents.
When conflict occurs in a group, such as a family, the first step toward resolution is the restoration of balance. The Coming to Peace process evens the playing field so that all members can feel empowered to give their account of the conflict. The process is based on the equality of all participants and requires everyone to voice their experience so they are heard by the group.
Being able to truly hear what someone is saying is a skill, especially if what the person is saying is something we don’t want to hear. Listening in this way requires focus, intention, and the willingness to address any resistance that arises internally or within the group. Coming to Peace supports each person in this process of engaged listening by allowing only one person to speak at a time. This gives the speaker the space needed to share without being interrupted, and gives the others in the group the opportunity to hear what is being said.
When we’re able to compassionately listen to each other, the larger picture begins to come into focus. This increases our ability to relate to the experience of others in the group, experiences that we may not have been aware of or even considered. In this way, we begin to expand our self-awareness and understand how we impact the lives of others. This expanded awareness is vital for resolving conflict.