In Part 1 of this article, I wrote about the effects conflict between parents can have on their children. In Part 2, I talked about a number of techniques to defuse or diminish conflict, including a few basic communication strategies. In this, the final part of the series, I'm going to talk about two more complicated, but very effective strategies: active listening and looping.
Active listening is a way of having a conversation, including really difficult conversations, in which you really listen to what the other parent is saying and check that you've understood the other parent. Active listening helps the other parent to feel genuinely heard and can significantly reduce the level of conflict. Looping is a way of having a conversation in which you work with the other parent to more fully understand what he or she is saying. Looping can slow the conversation down and usually calms high emotions in doing so. Looping also demonstrates your engagement in the conversation.
Although I discuss active listening and looping in the context of separated parentings, both strategies can be used whenever you're having a difficult conversation, for example, with a neighbour, an employer or a police officer.
The essential tools of active listening are asking closed questions, asking open questions, paraphrasing and summarizing. It usually helps to use all four tools, you'll see why in a bit, and it's usually best not to rely too much on a single tool.
Closed questions are used to quickly confirm something the other parent has said, to make sure you've got it. They give you yes or no, or other one-word answers, and rarely anything more. They also tend to suggest their answer.
"Can you drop her off half an hour early?" "Do you still have a job?" Open questions don't assume an answer, and ask for a lot more information as a result. "When are you leaving for work?" "What should we get him for his birthday?" Open questions usually seem like requests for additional information and don't usually come across as strident or demanding. The trick in asking them is to seem, and actually be, genuinely curious about the answer.
Paraphrasing is about clarifying what the other parent has said by repeating what has been said in your own words. Paraphrasing often starts by saying something like "so what you're saying is "in other words..." and "if I understand correctly, you're saying that..." Paraphrasing helps the other parent feel that he or she has...