Looping—Listening to Understand

By Katherine Miller and Melanie Rowen

When parties are in conflict, often one of the biggest hurdles for the mediator is to help parties understand the other’s perspective. This includes understanding the matters of importance to each person in their conflict. Looping—listening to understand—is one of the most transformative tools in our conflict resolution box and this technique is something that we’ve incorporated into our everyday lives—professionally and personally. Not only do we loop the parties as mediators, we also teach the parties in conflict to loop each other during the mediation process. 

The loop of understanding entails four steps. One person, we’ll call them Aiden, loops the other, whom we’ll call Nour. Aiden asks Nour questions about how they perceive the situation and what is important to them. Nour then responds, while Aiden’s goal is to understand what Nour is saying. Aiden then offers their understanding by sharing what they have learned from Nour in their own words rather than parroting what has been said. During this process, Aiden observes Nour’s reaction. Aiden then checks in with Nour to find out if Aiden’s loop was accurate. If not, Aiden then asks Nour to clarify their understanding, which provides Nour an opportunity to share what they believe Aiden has properly understood and elaborate on anything else pertinent to this exchange that has been missed. In turn, Aiden polishes their understanding, and this process continues until both parties are satisfied there is understanding. 

Looping is a practice that opens us up to empathy and is relevant in many scenarios when working with others in situations beyond conflict. It provides an opportunity to more deeply understand what is important to other people and why, and allows space to explore the emotions involved. Therapists, journalists, doctors, nonprofit leaders, and others have incorporated this impactful practice into how they work with others.

Want to learn more? Watch our webinar on looping anytime: https://understandinginconflict.org/store/.