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  • Waffle by Ruth Hartnup
    Waffle-RuthHartnupHave you experienced this scenario? You have given your employee specific and detailed instructions. They nod their head not uttering one word. You are in a rush as you have another meeting to get to in 5 minutes. You only ask the employee, “Do you understand?” The employee replies “Yes.” You follow with “Does it make sense?” Again, the employee responds, “Yes.” You feel confident that you have communicated well. And, off you run to the next meeting. At the end of the day, you check in with the employee. To your surprise, they misunderstood the detailed instructions and failed to follow through on the job as you intended. So, is it the fault of the employee or the boss in this failed communication?

    100% of what the listener hears and understands equals communication success. According to Osmo Wiio, a Finnish Professor of Communication, and a member of Finland’s Parliament, “Communication usually fails, except by accident.” What is important to note here is how did the recipient interpret your intended message. You may believe that you communicated your intention, but did you listen to how they received the message. We all process incoming information differently.

    Another Osmo Wiio maxim, “The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds.” We may think endless details are what is needed to clarify a project when in fact, the listener may shut down their listening. One client shared with me when his boss gives the minutia; he only hears “blah, blah, blah.” The employee might miss crucial information.

    As the speaker, make a few adjustments to your communication strategy.

    • Be succinct. Give the level of detail the listener needs at the moment, and leave the door open for the employee to return to further questions.
    • Ask an open-ended question versus a closed-ended question. “What do you understand about this task?” or “What is the key to what you will do with this project?
    • Listen to the employee’s response. What did they misunderstand? Then, provide further

    And, remember to reverse the strategy. When an employee comes to you with a concern or project idea, then you are the listener.

    • Refrain from saying “I understand.”
    • Briefly, summarize what you heard.
    • Ask clarifying questions to get the detail you need.

    Using these simple strategies will significantly improve communication success.

    Pattie Porter, LCSW

    Conflict Management Expert

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  • HurricaneBeulah1967I grew up on the South Texas – Mexico border off the Gulf of Mexico. We were all too familiar with hurricanes. Hurricane Beulah, a slow-moving, Category 5 storm was one of the largest, most powerful and damaging to hit the Rio Grande Valley in 1967. It was my first hurricane experience.

    At that time, television stations distributed hurricane tracking maps which my grandmother used to mark the latitude and longitude coordinates. This information helped us to prepare our home to reduce property damage and to find the safest place in the home while weathering the storm. Meanwhile, others chose to do nothing to prepare for the storm for various reasons. They didn’t feel the storm would hit the area. Others dismissed the seriousness of what they heard on the radio or just simply ignored the information.

    Meteorologists play a significant role in helping the public understand what to watch and prepare for when storms develop. They are experts in tracking storms studying weather patterns and conditions and predicting potential danger.

    As a conflict management expert, I work with individuals, leaders, and teams to recognize the signs and signals from people’s non-verbal communication as well as the words they use. I look for patterns in their workplace environment which contribute to a brewing storm. Most of us can recognize these same signals, but many of us ignore or dismiss entirely the significance and potential damage from misunderstandings that grow to disagreements. These disagreements can quickly escalate to conflict storms with the emotional intensity of Mother Nature’s wrath.

    Learning how to recognize and acknowledge conflict takes courage and confidence for most people. It also requires one to hone their observation and listening skills. Here are some initial steps to consider when practicing these skills. The goal is to detect these signs earlier.

    • Look for non-verbal communication such as someone’s facial expressions or body language that says to you “I’m not happy” or “I’m uncomfortable.”
    • Listen for the emotion in the person’s voice. If someone says “I’m fine” with an emotional tone indicating nervousness, annoyance, or frustration, then they are NOT fine.
    • Mentally note or acknowledge internally that something is amiss.
    • Communicate what you see and hear to the dissatisfied individual. For example, “I noticed that you said you were fine, but I sense that you might be annoyed. Would you like to talk about it?”

    By paying attention to the early signs of conflict, you become more aware of a potentially slow-growing storm. Watch! Listen! If you continue to hear or see dissatisfaction or emotions intensify, then the situation warrants a verbal acknowledgment and an opportunity to hear what is beneath the surface.

    For more tips on diminishing destruction, read Stop the Dreaded Drama: 55 Tips for Ending Destructive Conflict.

    Pattie Porter, LCSW

    Conflict Management Expert

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  • Pertinent Points

    • A hot button or trigger word can be words, a tone of voice, or a particular way someone conveys body language that sets you off.
    • Everyone has different hot buttons and trigger words that can cause them to become angry.
    • When we are feeling triggered we automatically rush to judgment about what the other person is saying or doing.

    Key Question: How can you listen past their anger or yours?

    Identify your physiological triggers.

    It is essential to know when you begin feeling triggered, whether your face gets hot, shoulders tense, or your stomach starts turning, being able to recognize when you are triggered helps you to be more efficient in addressing it.

    Take the judgment out of what happened.

    When we are in a hot-button moment, we unconsciously jump to judgment. We feel accused, devalued, disrespected, or powerless. We judge what the person said and frame it negatively without considering that what we interpreted may not have been what the person intended.

    Breathe to Calm Judgmental Thoughts.

    Take deep breaths to calm yourself when you are feeling triggered. By taking deep breaths, you allow oxygen to the brain which can directly impact the adrenaline pumping through your system. By calming yourself down, you allow yourself to hear what the other person is saying without becoming defensive.

    Be Curious in Conversation.

    Ask the person questions about what they are thinking and feeling, to learn more about what is going on with them. Observe what is going on with the other person so you can begin to understand and question the situation.

    Develop Self- Empathy.

    Identify your feeling words to understand and determine what exactly you need at that moment.

    Assignment for the week:

    In our interview with Susan H. Shearouse on the Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, Susan suggested an assignment to listen to your reactions. Listen for the moments when you are hooked by trigger words and hot buttons, and spend some time identifying your feelings at that moment and what your needs are to address those feelings.

    To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire episode entitled, Hot Buttons and Trigger Words: How to Listen Past Your Anger or Theirs.

    Abigail R.C. McManus M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

    Guest Blogger

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