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Give It to Me Straight- Communicating Directly and Constructively

verbal-agression-e1294095402272It is a widely known fact among my family and friends that I am direct. I am not a person who beats around the bush or sugarcoats. The Free Dictionary by Farlex defines beating around the bush as “To speak evasively or misleadingly, or to stall or waste time.” Merriam-Webster’s definition of sugarcoat is, “to talk about or describe (something) in a way that makes it seem more pleasant or acceptable than it is.” Many people I have found tend to dodge or pacify their delivery of certain messages to avoid conflict. Or, they dodge and pacify because being direct makes them uncomfortable. I am not afraid of conflict because I learned how to resolve and manage it efficiently and constructively, which is a skill everyone can learn! Even before learning these skills, I was direct. I have always been this way because I observed when I was growing up that when people are not straightforward they are leaving room for misunderstanding. I also feel there is a misconception that being direct means you must be nasty or hurtful. There is an art to delivering a direct message in such a way that it is received well, and the recipient is not offended.

So what is the best way to deliver a direct message?

  1. Plan out what you will say before the conversation happens.

My fiancé often thought I overly prepared when I was speaking to someone about an uncomfortable topic because I would plan out what I was going to say. However, recently he had an awkward conversation that required directness. He prepared beforehand and in doing so he felt that it assisted with the effectiveness of his delivery. I recommend saying things out loud because hearing the words spoken allows you to critique and alter whatever is needed.

  1. Talk directly to the person who you want to receive the message.

Never relay your message to someone and ask him or her to talk to the person in your place. First, this is a complete cop-out. Second, it can hurt the person’s feelings especially if the message being delivered is a difficult one. While technology has provided many outlets for communication, I believe face-to-face is always best. If you must give a message in a different form make sure you are the one doing it.

  1. Communicate the message honestly, but do not be hurtful.

Anytime a person feels like they are being attacked they will get defensive. The moment someone gets defensive the possibility of conflict increases. There are several ways to deliver a message directly so that it can be well received. I outlined my two favorite tactics below.

Tactic #1 – Ask a question. If a friend is consistently late when meeting you for lunch rather than saying, “Leah, you are late again, I have been waiting for fifteen minutes, and it’s rude.” Most likely, Leah will get defensive. Instead, you could say, “Leah, I noticed you are often running late when we meet for lunch, next meeting would it be more convenient to pick a later time?” The same message is being conveyed, but Leah will be less likely to get defensive.

Tactic #2 – Make a comparison/empathize. When I was on my high school’s dance team, we learned a challenging routine that we would be performing at a basketball game. One of my team members was struggling with a combination. I pulled her aside and said, “I noticed that this combination was giving you a hard time. I had issues with it too; let me show you a trick I used that made it a little easier!” I was able to address directly an issue and show that I too had struggled. Many times when people speak directly to others they can come across as condescending or snobby, pointing out your struggles and flaws can assist in keeping a the conversation balanced.

The more people practice being direct in a non-confrontational way, the least likely misunderstandings will arise.

Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

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What goes Wrong after “I Do”? – Tips on How to Not Become Apart of the 50 Percent

wed-default-icon1According to the American Psychological Association, “40 to 50 percent of married couples in the United States divorce.” Twelve weeks from now I will be getting married; therefore this statistic could be discouraging. My mother married once before my dad, and she often says, “No one enters into a marriage thinking they will get a divorce.” I have thought a lot this week about what having a good marriage means and why a couple might resort to divorce, and I compiled a list below.

  • Communication- Majority of the reasons that I will provide for why couples divorce, all come back to communication. I learned in school that when people stop talking that is when the issues arise. People are not mind readers, so if a couple stops talking with one another, there is no way of knowing what their partner is thinking. Lack of communication is a breeding ground for conflict; therefore, I have always stressed open communication with my fiancé. We make a point to catch up on one another’s day, talk issues through, and constantly keep communication channels open.
  • Trust- A lack of trust can destroy a relationship. While I recognize trust also requires a certain level of vulnerability, and if someone has hurt you in the past, this can be especially difficult. A marriage will only be successful if you trust your partner. I took a lot more time to trust than my fiancé because I was hurt in the past, but I found that once I allowed myself to be exposed, our relationship ran much smoother.
  • Rushing- Many couples may get divorced because they rushed into marriage. Women worry about their biological clock, men may feel aging pressure as well. Couples do not take the time to get to know one another and take the position that they will figure it out as they go, which isn’t always the best route to take. Although, I’m sure there are exceptions. I think it is important to understand the person you are committing to and not shy away from the tough topics. When my fiancé and I say, “I do” we will have been dating eight years, we started when we were seventeen and eighteen. We essentially had to grow up together, and we each had to adjust to one another changing, as neither of us are the same people we were as teenagers.
  • Expectations- Humans have expectations for people and their relationships. When a significant other, the relationship, or both, don’t live up to the hopes placed on them, things fall apart rather quickly. My fiancé and I have spent a lot of time discussing this topic. We both feel a way to avoid failing to live up to standards, is to be confident with who we are as individuals, and to check consistently in on one another’s needs and wants.

While there are more than four reasons why people may resort to divorce, these were the ones I thought to be the most important. My fiancé and I are not, like my mother said, entering into matrimony with divorce in mind. We are not even entering into marriage thinking it is an option. He and I have talked extensively on this topic, and we both established that should we start having issues we will continuously communicate and if need be, attend counseling. While it may seem as though we have a negative outlook, I think it is always best to have a game plan for future events that could occur.

 

Abigail Clark, M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

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When Good and Poor Work Ethics Collide- Addressing the Ethic’s Dilemma

Lazy-Coworker-BlogI have a memory from about ten years ago of a snowstorm that hit Maryland. The snow touched most of the state and especially the northern part of Maryland where it hit hardest. I lived in this part of the state with my family. At the end of our long, gravel driveway where snow accumulated it would take my Dad and neighbor several hours to dig us out. During this particular snow, my Dad, who leaves for work at 4:00 in the morning, was unable to drive his truck up the driveway. So what did my Dad do? He called and asked a co-worker to come pick him up and take him to work. I watched from my bedroom window in the early hours of the morning as my Dad walked through the snow, up to the main road to catch a ride. I can recall thinking, why doesn’t he just call out? But, that’s not my Dad. I have always been impressed by his work ethic, a trait he has subtly instilled in me over the course of my life.

Since the start of the workplace series, I have been reflecting on my work experience over the past ten years, beginning with when I filled out my first W-2 at the age of fifteen. I determined that one of my biggest pet peeves in every experience I have had was when a co-worker lacked a strong work ethic.

What is a strong work ethic?

Amelia Jenkins a contributor on Chron.com identifies five factors that exhibit a strong work ethic, “Integrity”, “Sense of Responsibility”, “Emphasis on Quality”, “Discipline”, and “Sense of Teamwork”. Our work ethic is about personal values and what we believe to be most important. Most of these factors are self-explanatory, but “emphasis on quality” Amelia Jenkins mentions is a worker’s ability to provide quality work rather than just delivering the bare minimum.

When a colleague demonstrates a poor work ethic such as consistently showing up late, not meeting deadlines, or slacking off on work, other employees may become annoyed, angry, and resentful. Why is this? Because our definition and values are different. When our work ethic values clash, then these feelings arise. For me, the thing that bothers me the most is when a co-worker consistently makes excuses for why they have been unable to complete their work, rather than admitting they do not know how to do it or that they were procrastinating.

So how can one co-worker address another who is exhibiting a poor work ethic?

When co-workers show a poor work ethic, I have approached them and asked what they are finding most difficult. If they say they are struggling with a problem I have dealt with before, I show him or her how to work through it; however, if it is a problem I have never had before, I find someone else who can assist them.

Ashley Miller from globalpost.com suggests, “No one wants to come across as a goody two-shoes, but there’s usually no harm in addressing your concerns directly with your co-worker in a polite, professional manner. “ A fellow employee may be more willing to change their behavior and less likely to hold a grudge if you, for example, say, “Hey Nancy, I noticed you have been getting to work late recently, I wanted to check in with you to make sure everything is okay?” When you acknowledge the poor behavior in a non-confrontational way, your co-worker will be aware that s/he’s conduct is being noted and may be more likely to get to work on time. If something is occurring to prevent the employee from getting to work on time, then the issue can be brought up and addressed. However, it is imperative that the discussion be done in private that way your co-worker is more likely to be receptive.

Frances Burks from Chron.com advises, “Find out if your coworker understands how to complete his assigned tasks when you discuss work-ethic problems with him.” If a co-worker is struggling to meet deadlines, it may be wrong to assume that s/he are lazy or do not care. Instead, verify that they understand what is being asked of them. If the problem is they do not have the skill level to complete their assigned tasks, suggest they talk with a manager to obtain the necessary training needed. Do not take on the tasks yourself, by doing that you, as the employee will only grow more resentful.

Finally, Ashley Miller recommends, “Talking to your supervisor in a [concerned and kind] manner provides him with the opportunity to address your concerns and shows that you are dedicated to the success of your workplace.” A discussion with your supervisor should be a last resort after you have spoken with your co-worker regarding her/his behavior and nothing has changed. If the issue requires you to approach your boss, you might start the conversation with ‘I have a concern I need to address with you regarding my co-worker’.

For me, when I feel riled about my work ethic clashing with someone’s lack of work ethic, I now make a point of speaking with my co-workers rather than jumping to conclusions about what is causing their work ethic to lack. I have found that by talking with my coworkers directly in a calm and collected fashion, that most issues get resolved. Now anytime I receive praise for my strong work ethic, I always think of my Dad and how he showed me what it means to be a hard worker.

Abigail Clark,

M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Intern

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The Blockage Between Upper Management and Employees: Poor Communication and How to Improve It

communication.jpegI have had the experience of working in several organizations that despite having competent employees, financial means, and a solid customer base have failed to achieve their goals ultimately. These organizations are riddled with disorganization, frustration, and an overall negative atmosphere. Why might these previous employers of mine be experiencing these issues? A lack of communication between the Upper Management and its employees is a major cause. When those in leadership roles do not converse with their employees, those in lower paid positions feel frustrated, angry, and helpless leading to low workplace morale.

Mike Myatt a contributor to Forbes and leadership advisor points out, “If you reflect back upon conflicts you have encountered over the years, you’ll quickly recognize many of them resulted from a lack of information, poor information, no information, or misinformation.” I learned in my conflict management classes that the moment people stop communicating with one another the chance of resolution diminishes. However, if what is being communicated is omitting wrong or untrue information, conflicts will also rarely reach resolution.

Chris Joseph writer for Chron.com outlines four ways poor communication can cause conflict in the workplace.

  1. It can “[create] uncertainty.”
  2. It can cause issues when employees have to “[share] resources.”
  3. It can generate “poor teamwork.”
  4. It can spread “rumors and gossip.”

If communication issues such as these four examples continue to cause conflict and are not addressed, the overall business could be impaired. So why does poor communication continue to occur?

Miranda Brookins marketing professional and writer for Chron.com suggests six reasons, “Lack of leadership, unclear goals and duties, undertrained employees, limited feedback, employees disengaged, and virtual teams.” In previous organizations of which I have worked, one or more of these reasons have been the cause of poor communication.

How can companies improve communication in the workplace?

Inc. Staff from Inc.com suggests that an organization, “Create a culture. Above all else, to the extent possible, strive to be transparent and straightforward about the challenges of your business and even about your company’s financials. Such candor fosters trust and understanding”. A contention I had with one of the companies for which I worked is when upper management came and spoke to us, the employees. They informed us that there were not going to be any layoffs, and then, a week later, laid off fifty people. From that point on, I did not trust anything upper management said to us. I could understand upper management not wanting to cause panic among its staff; however if they had been upfront about layoffs they would have maintained the respect and trust of their employees.

Tim Eisenhauer co-founder of Axero, “Checking in with how your employees are doing is an essential aspect of running a business that should never be overlooked.” He goes on to explain, “Open forums such as [a town hall meeting], not only serve to improve internal communication, but can also help to empower your employees.” I once worked for a company where one of the bosses, took the time to walk around and speak to us employees, He simply walked around and asked, “How is your day going?” I remember feeling like he truly cared about my well-being, which made me feel appreciated. In other organizations where the upper management did not take the time to converse with me or they talked down to me, I often felt less inclined to work hard for them.

Another suggestion by Tim Eisenhauer is instead of one-sided communication, “allow for communication to be a two-way street, as you’ll see a number of benefits by taking this approach.” In one company of which I worked, the upper management often told us what their plans were instead of consulting us for ideas or allowing an open door policy to air our grievances. Therefore, we only knew what was going on after plans have been set in motion. Employees may have useful knowledge that could contribute and push the company forward. By not accessing this human capital resource an organization is limiting their success.

For an organization to be successful they must communicate. When people understand what is expected of them and they feel appreciated, they tend to work together more efficiently with less stress and frustration. This only benefits the employees and the company. If I had an opportunity to speak with upper management with my previous employers, I would suggest communicating openly and honestly with their employees. In doing so, employees will feel valued, trust their employer, and ultimately have the desire to perform to the best of their abilities.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Dealing with Conflict When Crisis Strikes – Thoughts from the Baltimore City Riots

emergencyprepchecklistI am writing this week’s blog post with a heavy heart. I was born and raised in Maryland, and I have been a resident of Baltimore City for the past four years. The events that occurred over the course of these past couple of weeks; starting with the arrest and then the death of Freddie Grey, is nothing short of tragic. As a student graduating in less than two weeks, with my Masters in Negotiation and Conflict Management from the University of Baltimore, these events have been eye opening to the deep-seated conflicts that exists not only in Baltimore City, but also throughout the United States. As a society, my hope is that we will do better, see the error in our ways, and make the necessary changes needed to progress forward.

Conflict will likely occur when multiple actors are involved in dealing with crisis incidents. In Baltimore, a number of businesses, large and small, were casualties of the riots. Companies must be organized so that owners and employees know what to do, where to go, who to report to, and what they are permitted to do to ensure safety, during times of crisis. If not, escalating conflict will occur causing confusion, possible injury, lack of timely response, and finger pointing when things don’t go well. Christine Pearson suggests in her article “A Blueprint for Crisis Management”, “The best firms … recognize that taking deliberate steps to prepare for the unforeseen can pay off handsomely.”

If a business does not formulate an approach to managing a crisis smoothly, conflict could arise between owners, employees, and external influences and the consequences could be potentially damaging.

So what can business owners and employees do to ensure these damaging consequences do not occur in the midst of a crisis?

Diana Pisciotta a contributor to Inc.com suggests, “One of the best outcomes of thinking about a crisis before it happens is the chance to consider your company’s strategy without the pressure of news choppers hovering over your facility.” Before a crisis occurs it is important to have an emergency plan in place so that all parties involved know what could be the worst outcomes, who to report to and receive directives from, and what is the plan moving forward. Effective communication of a crisis plan could clear up misunderstandings of authority and the tasks for which each person is responsible.

Clark Communications a virtual public relations agency recommends, “Communicate quickly and accurately – Positive, assertive communication focuses attention on the most important aspects of the problem and moves the entire process forward to resolution, even in an adverse environment or with an antagonistic news media.” In a crisis, especially now in the digital era, information whether accurate or not, is streamed to a global audience in an instant. Those in leadership roles need to communicate to their employees the facts they have received in a timely fashion, or they risk inaccurate information being received or heard. In a crisis, this could be detrimental.

Christine Pearson warns, “Once notified that a crisis has broken out, the best an organization can hope for is effective assistance from those within and outside the organization.” If a business does not have positive relationships formed both internally and externally, when a crisis occurs an owner cannot assume their employees and stakeholders will be there is assist once the dust settles. A business owner must build these relationships up to ensure assistance once a calamity occurs.

Finally, personality conflicts occur when a mix of different cultures, race, beliefs, attitudes, and work styles come together in one place. Royale Scuderi from Lifehack emphasizes, “Personality conflicts can be one of the biggest challenges in the workplace. Conflicts can usually be diffused by acceptance, understanding, appropriate action, and professionalism.” In times of crisis, it’s imperative that business owners and employees, put their differences assign and focus on the task at hand. It is important to recognize that they are all working towards the same goal.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Being open-minded after I do – A discussion and tips on the blending of an intercultural relationship

blogIn six months, I will be getting married and one of the Pastor’s requirements was to meet with him and discuss how we plan to handle certain topics such as money, parenting, and marital expectations. The meeting was fairly easy as my fiancé and I share similar views and values on most of the topics covered. The other day at school, I was speaking to a friend who is also getting married around the same time as me, to a man from a completely different religious background. My friend is Catholic and her fiancé is Hindu. She will be blending two different religions into one household; I couldn’t help but think to myself how challenging that must be for a couple. Religion is one of those dinner party topics you are supposed to avoid because of the conflicts that often arise when they are discussed. However, a couple that is about to get married does not have the luxury of avoiding such topics. I began to research the challenges intercultural marriages face, and the majority of the information I found discussed the ability to learn, understand, accept, and adjust to one another’s cultures.

In an article found on Marriage Missions International, initially written in Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book, Called Together, they first caution intercultural couples to “Know each other’s culture.” Intercultural couples must have an understanding of one another’s culture, beliefs and values, as these are part of what makes up a person’s identity. A lack of understanding has the potential to raise fierce conflicts later on in marriage.

Herbert G. Lingren, an Extension Family Life Specialist, warns a value conflict may occur if, “two people have different attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These differences may interfere in making decisions if we are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the ‘right way’ to do things.” Communicating, understanding, keeping an open mind, and respecting one another’s beliefs and customs can alleviate a lot of the disagreements an intercultural couple faces.

In an article originally published in the Washington Post, Rebecca R. Kahlenberg, a freelance writer, suggests “Negotiate and renegotiate dicey issues. Ideally, the time to discuss and make agreements about intercultural topics is before the wedding. What are each of your commitment levels to your culture?” Prior to getting married it is imperative that an intercultural couple discusses in detail what cultural expectations each has and how they will address differences as they arise.

Lastly, Steve and Mary Prokopchak encourage “Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another.” While the blending of two different cultures may seem challenging at times, the positive outweighs the negative when looking at the big picture. An intercultural couple learns to be more open-minded and tolerant towards other people’s values and beliefs. If the couple then chooses to have kids, their kids will also grow to be more tolerant and open minded, which in today’s society is absolutely needed to make the world a better place.

My aforementioned friend said that despite the challenges she and her fiancé have and will face, she has come to love and appreciate Hindu customs. She said she looks most forward to kids and sharing with them all of the wonderful elements that both religions have to offer.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Teamwork Tango: Using Partner Dancing Principles to Improve Organizational Leadership

Yael Schyclark.photo.Today’s organizations require that workers be adaptable. Truly effective leaders know how to follow and how it feels to be a follower. Conversely, in order to be a productive team member, one must understand the difficulties of being a team leader. The daily “dance” between leaders and followers requires mutual understanding and a balance of give and take. As the great Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu, said: “To lead, one must follow.” In this program, Yael Schy, creator of the Teamwork Tango®  leadership training approach, shares her philosophy and methodology of using partner dancing principles and exercises for helping leaders and followers in organizations to work together more collaboratively and effectively.
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Preparing for Travel- Tips to overcome language barriers

tourist-clipart-touristsIn the summer of 2011, I traveled to Italy with a friend, to take a guided fourteen-day tour of the country. Before we left, I bought several travel books to educate myself on the dos and don’ts of the American traveler. Throughout all the readings, it appeared that American’s had gained quite the tourist reputation. In a blog written by Caroline Morse a contributor to the HuffPost Travel, it explains American’s reputation is so infamous, “that the term “Ugly American” has become shorthand for any tourist that sticks out or misbehaves abroad.” The timing of my travels was unfortunate, as the cast of Jersey Shore had just concluded filming in Florence just before we arrived; therefore, I journeyed to Italy already feeling as though I had something to prove.

The majority of the literature I read stressed that the language barrier is often the most difficult task for Americans to overcome. Caroline Morse points out, “American tourists are notorious for just repeating English questions louder when a nonspeaker doesn’t understand.” Another language barrier issue for Americans is they use a lot of slang when speaking. Rick Steves, author of travel guidebooks, illustrates “Our American dialect has become a super-deluxe slang pizza not found on any European menu.” When Americans, or anyone for that matter, travel, it can become frustrating and even cause conflict when you are unable to effectively communicate.

So what can a traveler do before traveling abroad to assist in breaking down the language barrier?

The first tip emphasized is to research the country that you are traveling to and educate yourself about their customs. Female First suggests that you “Check out local customs, laws, and cultural differences. That way you can be prepared and avoid situations that might lead to a problem where a language barrier might stand in your way”. American culture is very different from other country’s culture; therefore, it is important to be aware of minor details such as when two people are first introduced, do they shake hands or bow? Or do they make eye contact when speaking to one another or is long held eye contact considered disrespectful? In order to make sure you are not offending anyone when traveling, knowing these details is necessary.

The second tip is to learn several key phrases in the country’s native tongue so that you can use when needed. Stacey Rudolph from Business 2 Community recommends that you, “Learn how to say good morning, hello and how do you do in the local tongue. Apart from that, learn the right phrases to ask for help in an emergency, directions, way to the bathroom and so on”. If you show that you are taking the initiative to learn their culture, people will be more inclined to help you.

The third tip is to speak slowly and annunciate your words. Rick Steves suggests, “Choose easy words and clearly pronounce each syllable (fried po-ta-toes) Try not to use contractions.” The person assisting you may be able to pick up on one or two words and determine what it is that you are asking if you speak slowly. Stacey Rudolph even advises that you “Find out if the person speaks English before you start stumbling in the local tongue”. If the person assisting you understands English then they can help you more quickly then you stumbling and mangling words and further confusing the conversation.

When traveling it is always important to keep in mind that each country has their own set of cultural customs and not attempting their language can come across as disrespectful and may raise conflict. Residents of the country that you are traveling do appreciate a tourist taking the initiative to learn their language and customs, and Americans who do this can assist in improving the stigma of the “Ugly American tourist”.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Lessons in Empathy –Tips on how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Clipart Illustration of Two Orange People On Blue Puzzle Pieces,When I was younger and in a conflict with a friend, I would always vent to my mom. I would often, as most of us do, blame the other person and make generalizations and assumptions about why my friend was acting, saying, and doing those things to me (always intentionally in my eyes). Once I would finish venting, my Mom would then take on the role of devil’s advocate. At the time, this drove me nuts because in my dramatic pre-teen/teen years, I just wanted her to take my side. I had no idea this little exercise she continuously did would end up benefiting me not only in my education but also in my life.

What is empathy and why is it important?

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In an article adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow found on Mindtools.com he explains that empathy, “Allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and it informs our decisions.” In a conflict, if you take the time to try and recognize where the other person is coming from, you can gain an alternative perspective.

How can you be more empathetic?

One step towards being more empathetic is to listen to the other person when they are speaking. Mike Robbins contributor to the HuffPost Healthy Living blog explains, “Asking people how they truly feel, what’s really going on in their world, AND listening to how they respond (without judgment) are some of the best things we can do to express our empathy for the people around us.” Often in conflict, we stop listening to one another because we are too absorbed in our thoughts and feelings or because we are preparing a response.

The next step suggested by Bruna Martinuzzi is, “Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and [have a] genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.” By taking the time to ask questions and be inquisitive about the other person’s life, you are getting to know them and showing that you care, which builds trust and rapport and makes it easier to step into their shoes if a conflict should arise.

The final step suggested by Reginald Adkins, a contributor on LifeHack.org, to being more empathetic is to “Assure you’re understanding. Ask clarifying questions and restate what you perceive the speaker to be saying.” In order for you to be empathetic, you must make sure that you comprehend the message the person is trying to convey. Sometimes it can be helpful to regurgitate back to the person what you heard. If what you heard and what they said are not matching up, allow them to clarify further. While doing this may seem tedious, it ensures that no miscommunication occurs and that you have a clear understanding of that person’s perspective, which then allows you to be more empathetic.

It is always in hindsight that we can see the lessons our parents were trying to teach us. I can remember a time in college when I was in a conflict and I automatically stopped and thought, where are they coming from? In that moment, I recognized what my Mom had been doing all those years; she had been teaching me to be empathic.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student Intern,

University of Baltimore- Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Sharing the Blame Game- Take Ownership Now

blamegameIn my first semester at University of Baltimore we were assigned a book to read called Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen. The book provides a step-by-step approach to working through difficult conversations. The entire book was fantastic, but one particular section was eye opening for me. The chapter discusses how people need to stop blaming others and instead assess how they have contributed to the conflict. Stone, Patton, and Heen urge readers to ask themselves, “how did I contribute to this problem?” At this time in my life I was involved in a conflict with a friend and I was not taking any responsibility for my actions. It was a huge breakthrough for me because I realized how often we blame others for the conflicts we face; we abandon ownership of our problems, but why? Perhaps because it is easier to throw up our hands and say, “I didn’t do anything wrong”, but this does not resolve conflicts, if anything it prolongs them.

In any conflict you face, whether with a significant other, boss, or friend begin by taking a step back and asking yourself “How did I contribute to this problem?” Dr. Patty Ann Tublin a contributor to Entrepreneurial Woman explains, “Conflict in our relationships cannot be created in a vacuum. At least two people are responsible for it when it enters our lives. Regardless of whether you started the conflict or you are allowing it to perpetuate, you have some personal responsibility for its presence in your relationship.” Maybe your husband forgot to stop and pick up the items you requested for dinner at the store, he gets home and this starts a fight because now you have nothing to make for dinner. Ask yourself what you could have done differently? Maybe you could have sent a reminder to him so he wouldn’t forget. Even small squabbles such as this can build resentment, if both parties do not take ownership.

Why do people avoid taking responsibility?

In an excerpt from Kenneth Cloke and Joan Goldsmith’s book, The Art of Waking People Up: Cultivating Awareness and Authenticity at Work found on Mediate.com they explain that, “everyone in conflict tells a story in which they are right and the other person is wrong.” Cloke and Goldsmith suggests that, “These accusatory, self-serving stories are designed to disguise and divert attention from the role they play in keeping the conflict going, and reinforce their defenses, justifications, countermeasures, and irreconcilable positions.” Stone, Patton and Sheen point out “The urge to blame is based, quite literally, on a misunderstanding of what has given rise to the issues between you and the other person, and on the fear of being blamed.” People are not fond of admitting to their shortcomings. But the fact of the matter is, we are all human and we all make mistakes. It is easier to point the finger at someone else when things go wrong. And it takes courage and strength to own up to your part in any given issue and in doing so, it assists you and the person your in conflict with move forward.

Why is taking ownership important?

Jeff Durham a contributor to Life Coach Expert points out, “ taking responsibility for our actions equals success. It also makes us feel good about ourselves and rids us of negative personality traits such as anger, fear, resentment, hostility and doubt.” It is essential to recognize your contribution to the conflict in order to move towards resolution. The other person in the conflict becomes more open to listening allowing both parties to see and understand why the conflict occurred, what improvements you need to make and how to prevent the problem from happening again. So, the next time you find yourself attacking or blaming others, stop, think and ask yourself “What did I do or say, however small, that contributed to the problem?” Refrain from justifications such as “I wouldn’t have done X, if they had not done Y.” And then, own it.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student Intern

University of Baltimore

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