The Art of Impartial Listening




“To constitute a dispute there must be two parties. To understand it well, both parties and all the circumstances must be fully heard; and to accommodate the differences, temper and mutual forbearance are requisite.” – George Washington, 1790


We live in an era marked by disputes. Facts are debated, and political parties are in constant conflict. Social media amplifies differences, making it easy to get caught in the echo chamber of our own beliefs. In such a climate, impartial listening is more crucial than ever.

This quote from Washington holds timeless wisdom. Especially in leadership. Disputes arise in any setting. But resolving them requires a balanced approach.



Imagine you’re leading a team. Two members come to you with conflicting perspectives on a project. It’s easy to nod along and agree with the first person who speaks. But this often leads to missed details and unresolved tensions. To lead effectively, you must listen to both sides. Fully.



Hear Both Sides

Listening is more than hearing words. It’s about understanding context and emotions behind those words. When someone voices a concern, they’re offering a piece of the puzzle. The other party holds another piece.


Early in my career I worked for a leader who handled conflicts with patience. When faced with a major dispute between people or departments, she sat down with each team individually. She didn’t just listen. She asked questions. Only after understanding both sides did she bring them together to find a solution. This approach not only resolved the conflict but also built trust.



Stay Impartial

Remaining impartial is challenging but crucial. As a leader, your role is to guide towards resolution. This means that you should show empathy but stay neutral.


Investigate Thoroughly

Don’t just take what you hear at face value. Investigate. Check facts. Understand the context. When a team member claims they were treated unfairly, verify their claims. Look into the circumstances. This ensures you’re making decisions based on complete information.



Encourage Temperance and Forbearance

Washington’s mention of temper and mutual forbearance is key. In heated disputes, tempers flare. Encourage calmness and patience. Sometimes, stepping back and taking a break can help. This allows everyone to cool down and approach the problem with a clear mind.



Leadership involves navigating conflicts with wisdom. By listening to both sides, staying impartial, investigating thoroughly, and promoting patience, you can lead your team through disputes effectively. Washington’s advice remains as relevant today as it was in 1790. Embrace it and watch your leadership impact grow.


Image Credit: Micaela Parente

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