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  • information-boards-105196_1920Over the years, I mediated hundreds of cases and coached executives and business owners on how to address and break ongoing conflict behavior patterns.  A typical communication mode is the overuse of words such as always, never, should, right, wrong, truth or lie. These absolute terms when habitually used sustain and escalate the conversation. Here is an example.

    Sue yells, “You always do that! You should know better than to lie to me. It is simply wrong to hide the fact that you didn’t file the critical reports on time. And now, we will incur a stiff financial penalty.”

    Robert defensively states “I didn’t lie. The report was filed on time. You should never make assumptions. If you had just asked, you would have learned the truth. I requested for an extension of the deadline. The report was filed based on this new time frame. Once again, I am right, and you are wrong.”

    Sue goes on the attack, and expectedly, Robert defends himself. Using absolute terms gives little room for the conversation to maneuver. Everything is black and white and represents only one perspective. We shut down a conversation instead of opening it up for further clarity. This type of exchange also causes damage and instills distrust in the working relationship. Here is how Sue might have improved her communication to prevent or de-escalate the conversation.

    “Robert, I am very upset with you. I just found out that the report was filed after the deadline. In our last conversation, I thought we both understood how critical it was to file on time, so we would not incur a stiff financial penalty. I need you to be honest with me. What happened?” Sue said with exasperation.

    Robert remained calm. “Sue, honestly, we are both correct. I fully understood the criticalness of filing the report on time. In fact, I asked for and received an extension on the deadline so that we could check our work for accuracy. I successfully filed the report before the new time limit. We are not going to incur a penalty.”

    You can feel the difference between the tone and the delivery. If you are using this type of language in your disputes, be aware of how the other person receives your message and reacts. Here are ideas for how you might change this ineffective and damaging habit.

    • Ask a trusted friend or colleague to observe and listen for the absolute terms you frequently use.
    • Invite them to give you feedback either in the moment or shortly after that.
    • Identify words in advance to substitute the absolute terms such as “sometimes,” “mostly,” or “on a rare occasion.”
    • Self-monitor your phrases and observe how the other person reacts when you communicate. Then, adjust your tone, delivery, and phrase choices.

    Keep in mind these words such as never and always have an appropriate place and time to be used. When used strategically, they educate and inform what action or behavior to refrain or to do.

    Pattie Porter, LCSW

    Conflict Management Expert

     

     

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  • traffic-lights-466950_1920People deal with conflict every day of their lives. Conflict stripped down to bare bones is merely a clashing view on a particular topic. However, most of us when we hear the word conflict we think, yelling, name-calling, slamming doors, silent treatment, cold-shoulder, avoidance, etc. Conflict does not have to be this way. You can have a conflict with someone and through listening, discussing, negotiating, and empathizing you can resolve the conflict constructively. The constructive way to resolve conflict seems far fetch, doesn’t it? I thought so in the beginning when I first started to learn about conflict resolution.

    The reason I believe that we find the concept of constructive conflict resolution so improbable is because we have never seen it done properly. We often learn from the world around us how to manage conflict, and most often our examples do not do it well. Think about what your household was like growing up, did your parent’s communicate well? Try to remember a time when there was a disagreement, did they yell over top of one another? Speak in absolutes, “You always cut me off, why should I listen”? Or did they do the opposite, where rather than discussing it at all they simply gave one another the cold shoulder and then eventually at some point the conflicts resolved? How your family managed conflicts growing up is likely how you approach conflicts today.

    Changing how you approach conflict can be tough especially if you do not have any idea how to go about doing it. What if I told you there is a way to resolve your conflicts constructively for little or no cost? Community mediation is an awesome resource that many people do not realize is available to them.

    What is Mediation?

    Mediation is a process involving a neutral third party that facilitates communication between two or more opposing parties in hopes of achieving reconciliation and resolution.

    Mediation allows both sides the opportunity to be heard and also to control the outcome of their conflict as opposed to going to court where a lawyer will speak for you, and a judge determines the outcome. Mediation is also a much cheaper option than going to court where costly fees for lawyers and such can rack up quickly.

    What is community mediation?

    Community mediation centers exist in just about every one of the fifty states. Many centers serve specific communities and regions within their state. They are often free or low-cost, efficient and timely in regards to scheduling and availability, and most often voluntary meaning, you are in charge of the process and can stop mediation at any time. The mediators that facilitate your conflict are often volunteers that have gone through your center’s particular training program. They are neutral third parties, which means they are unable to take sides or give any advice to you. Also, mediators are bound by a confidentiality agreement. The best and most important thing I believe about this service is it is your process; you are in control; the mediator is simply there as a guide.

    What’s the point of having a mediator present if they are only facilitating and can’t tell me what to do?

    Just the presence of another person who is neutral and unattached to the conflict can change the entire dynamic of the disagreement and how the parties approach one another. We tend to behave better when another person is present. The mediator will ask questions and will use reflection to assist one side in further clarifying their feelings, needs, and wants to the other side. When we are entrenched in our conflicts, we often say things we don’t mean, by having a neutral third party there to parrot back to you what you just said it gives you the power to edit and rephrase your message in a clear and concise way.

    The most amazing thing about all of this is once you witness constructive conflict resolution, you’ll have the tools and be more mindful of what to do in future conflicts to achieve the same results.  Consider the option of reaching out to the community mediation center in your area next time you experience a conflict and take advantage of a service that could help make your life easier! In fact, we have some podcasts on community mediation. Listen now!

     

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

    Guest Blogger/ Host

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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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