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Negotiation - Hearing and Listening
“When we listen to Nature, we begin to hear our own true nature”

For peacemakers, it is important to distinguish between hearing and listening.

Hearing is a physical act in which sound is amplified in the ear and disseminated to the brain for interpretation and response. Listening, however, is an act of cognition in which what is heard is interpreted and understood by the body/mind. In between the sound of what we hear and the interpretation of what is heard is a meditative space where the peacemaker’s focused attention is drawn. That space consists of the speaker’s tone or emotional spin being placed on the words being heard, the non-verbal cues emanating from the speaker, and one’s subjective reaction to what is being uttered.


The intonations of a speaker’s words, especially in a highly charged emotional environment, are tremendously important. Often, it is not what you say; it is the emphasis placed on the spoken words that informs a Peacemaker as to what a disputant’s true meaning may be. A Peacemaker’s reflex to a tonal cue or spin should be to question the speaker to insure that her words and tone truly reflect intended meaning.

When confronted by a dichotomy between verbiage and the truer, non-verbal, tonal implications of what is being said, at least two Peacemaker tools come to mind. One is to call a halt to the proceedings and take an educative moment with the participants. The educative moment can be done either privately with the negatively intoning speaker or as a lesson for all participants to observe and note for more effective communication between them. This approach works best when participants have given prior permission to the Peacemaker to perform this important education function. The Peacemaker’s function in this regard is ideally explored at an initial ADR process only oriented session with participants.

The Peacemaker’s ability to educate participants on poor communication habits can be crucial to the success of an ADR Process. The disconnect between words and tone and how that gap can make the other participant(s) defensive and hostile to even the most reasonable suggestions can be pointed out to the unconscious speaker in a respectful and helpful manner. Also, one can have participants reverse roles and have each step into the shoes of the other and experience the potential destructiveness of negative tonality.

The second tool is reframing. When a participant continues to use negative tonality, such as sarcastic spin to his words, an automatic reflex should be triggered in the Peacemaker that seeks to recast the negative tone so that a more positive, non-defensive response from the other disputant(s) is elicited. Reframing will also help educate the unconscious speaker to likely be more careful about her tonality in subsequent negotiations. Prior participant permission to perform this peacemaker function is also advisable. As an example, in divorce mediation a participant might intone caustically and state:

“I don’t understand why you want joint physical custody of the children when during the marriage your first concern was always your career?” (Emphasis added) The Peacemaker might reframe this statement, which she perceives to be an emotional button pusher for the recipient of such a tonal assault, by stating: “Are you really saying that X is not capable of the post-divorce parenting skills necessary to co-parent the children or because his time and energy were focused on providing financial support for the family, you felt neglected in the marriage, which is why you are seeking a divorce?” Such a reframe will help to insure that words and intent behind the words match, and will keep participants on a better present day negotiation track. Remember: intonation matters. Sarcastic and caustic comments are almost always trigger words. In psychology, trigger words are viewed as a form of dishonest communication, which are designed to mask feelings - hurt, anger, resentment, fear, anxiety and the like, and are not legitimately seeking information, the exchange of ideas, and/or resolutions to conflict.

Non-Verbal Cues

Similar to the above observations on tonality, are non-verbal, physical cues emanating from a distraught or unconscious speaker, which negatively impact Peacemaking negotiations. Classic non-verbal signals would be: rolling of the eyes, repeated and inappropriate laughter and loud breath release, finger pointing, facial contortions, and rigid crossing of arms and legs. Once again, the Peacemaker needs to perform an educational role in helping distressed participants to disarm themselves from inappropriate body language. Often, participants come to the peacemaking process because of negative patterns and/or a failure in their communicative relationship rather than a real dispute over a particular issue. As in the example above, the real issue may be the divorcing couple’s prior inability to talk about the balance between co-parenting needs and family financial security and not the husband’s post-divorce parenting ability.

Subjective Reaction

The Peacemaker’s subjective reactions to what ADR participants are saying, including non-verbal cues and tonal content, is of paramount importance in being an effective Pacemaker. At issue for the Peacemaker is whether she can maintain a meditative state of choice less awareness. As Mr. K imparts, can we listen to a dispute participant’s words without judgment? Can we observe the words, tone, and non-verbal cues of a participant without our prior conditioning, images and thoughts, which are based on memory, monopolizing our consciousness? If we can observe what is being said in a state of non-judgment or choice less awareness we are much more likely to be helpful to and creative on behalf of conflicted participants in the present moment. We will be better able to help participants get to the root of their dysfunctional communication patterns. We can then help guide participants to deal with issues that need to be addressed in the present moment and not dwell in the realm of their past history and poor communication habits. When we are free of the limitations of our own preconceptions about what is being said (or not said), we peacemakers are able to open up space in our own brains to see more clearly the road to a more peaceful and civilized ending of conflict between disputants.


Learning to distinguish between hearing and listening is a practiced meditative art form. As the indigenous Yupiit elders of southwest Alaska remind us: “The Creator gave us two ears and one mouth; therefore, we must listen at least twice as much as we speak.” Your role as a Peacemaker will be greatly enhanced by finding space for observation in your brain between what is being said (or not said)—verbally and/ or through physical cues, tonal quality of the words being uttered, and, most importantly, your subjective reaction to the participant’s verbiage.

Remember: as a neutral in the eye of the storm of conflict, being and remaining neutral and non-judgmental is a very worthy and conscious state of being.

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