How do we get to the True Encounter? And what is the distinction between Conflict Resolution and Conflict Dissolution?

I would like to share a story today that illustrates a special quality of listening which generates a true Encounter as well as Conflict Dissolution.

My cousin Drorit from Israel is taking a class in the elements of Conflict Resolution. The professor taught the skills of listening by introducing the process of mirroring, in essense repeating the words we hear, which resulted in much resistance from the students attending the class. She remembers a story that I told her about an encounter I had in an airport, and she asked me to write it for her so that she can share with her colleagues.

Here is the story:

“I am standing in a long line at the Stockholm airport at 3 o’clock in the morning trying to get home to the United States. The airline, SAS, is having a strike. When I get to the counter, the woman behind the counter barks at me vehemently, looking down at my ticket: “Why are you even standing in this line. There is nothing I can do for you. You have two tickets instead of one.” I hear the utter exhaustion, the emotional overwhelm, the disheartened frustration. I imagine that she is by now sleep deprived and weary. I “cross the bridge” in my heart to her world, and I simply repeat her words to let her know I am present to her. I say gently: “You don’t know why I am standing here because there is nothing you can do for me, since I have two tickets instead of one”. It had been a while since she heard a human voice, and she looked up at me. She shouts: “No, nothing. I am exhausted. I’ve been here since the afternoon with this unending line. And I have not slept in days.” Now she looks at me, as I am again letting her know that I am fully present, by staying with her own words: “So you are exhausted. You have not slept in days, and you are facing this unending line.” She visibly calms down. It looks like her central nervous system is beginning to regulate. Her face softens. Her voice softens. She says: “I am sorry that I cannot do anything for you.” We now look at each other. And it is just a moment of connection.

And I say: “You are sorry. You just can’t do anything for me.” And suddenly I see her face light up. She says: “Maybe I can do something for you.” She closes the counter, and leaves. She comes back 20 minutes later, opens the counter, and says: “I have decided to give you a gift. Here is a ticket to New York via Oslo. SAS is losing millions, what’s a small gift of a ticket.”

The story illustrates a special quality of listening that seems to assist in both people’s central nervous system regulating. And from this regulation comes the possibility of a true Encounter.

Otto Scharmer in his book Leading from the Emerging Future: From Ego-System to Eco-System Economies calls this kind of listening Level 4 listening. He describes the four levels of listening as follows:

Level 1: Downloading

It is listening from our habits. It is the kind of listening where we are unable to hear anything that doesn’t agree with what we already think. We are trapped inside the world of our preconceived notions. Sometimes even on an unconscious level we project the filter of our existing judgments.

Level 2: Factual listening

It is the listening based on observing the world around us. It is receiving information and listening to the facts.

Level 3: Empathic listening

It is adopting the other person’s perspective, and opening our hearts to see ourselves through the eyes of the other.

Level 4: Generative listening

It is listening with our whole being. It is not only opening our hearts but also our guts. It is a widened and heightened state of attention, in which new realities enter the horizon, and come into being. We feel as if we are connected to, and operating from a widening surrounding sphere. It is the zone of the “encounter.” Time seems to slow down, space seems to open up, and the experience of self morphs, from a single point, the “ego system,” into a heightened presence, and a stronger connection to the surrounding sphere, our “eco system.” In generative listening the connection that is made is from the essence of one human being to the essence of another.

We can repeat the words we hear and “mirror” them in all four levels of listening – habitual, factual, empathic or generative. The airport story is an example of generative listening. As I listened to the woman at the counter, I allowed myself to become connected to her core as a person. When I repeated her words, she experienced my presence not just as someone empathic, but also as someone aware of her humanity. She then acted out of her essential generosity and her sense of personal freedom and choice.

Yumi and I are more and more conscious of the fact that our entire planet is in need of the skill of generative listening, in the service of our “eco system.” Generative listening does not create Conflict Resolution, it generates Conflict Dissolution. Indeed conflict dissolution is one of the results of embracing the principles I teach in my workshops and trainings. It brings us back to our true essence as human beings. Our planet deserves to flourish through the connectedness of its inhabitants.