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Blah! Blah! Blah! – Is This What you Hear When Your Boss Speaks?

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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When High Expectations Leads to Disappointments

signs-416441_1280Expectations can often precipitate disappointment; especially if they do not align with another’s plan. People usually come into most situations with expectations as to how things will turn out, or what a person will be like, etc. While I do not completely believe it is a viable option to enter a situation with no expectations at all – I do believe it is important to learn how to manage those perceptions to sidestep a potential conflict.

Recently, I experienced a conflict in expectations with my Mom. In January, my cousin will be getting married in Charleston, South Carolina. Being as we are from Maryland, it requires us to book flights to travel down or otherwise drive. My parents will be flying out of BWI which has direct flights to the Charleston airport. My husband and I have an event going on the day before the wedding and will have to fly out of Washington D.C.’s Reagan airport. Reagan has no direct flights to Charleston’s airport, so we will have a layover which will prolong our arrival, and we will miss the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding which we were planning to attend.

When I informed my mom of this slight change in plans, she became upset and expressed her extreme disappointment as she was looking forward to a long weekend of visiting with us. Now, we would only be able to see them during the day before the wedding and at the celebration itself as our departing flight was leaving very early on Sunday. I was frustrated by her response initially because I felt it was unjust to be upset with me over flight times that I couldn’t control. However, upon further reflection, it occurred to me that my mother’s disappointment was an effect of the expectations she had for that weekend. I am very much like my mom – in the past, I set these expectations up in my mind, and when plans or people fall short I to quote my mom became, “extremely disappointed.”

However, I began to work on handling those situations better so I could better control my emotional responses. Here are some tips and strategies I have used:

Ask yourself, what am I expecting to occur? Just knowing what you are hoping to get out a situation provides more clarity. I like to ask myself this question so I can determine where I might need to be more proactive in making plans.

What do I mean by being more pro-active? I planned my husband’s birthday celebration a couple of weeks ago. Before the event, I determined what I was expecting to occur. I expected us to arrive promptly to the place we were going – which required everyone to get to our house, eat, and leave on time. Therefore, I determined the time of arrival and leaving time and communicated it to all the people attending to ensure we met timing expectations.

Communicate so everyone is on the same page. If you communicate what your expectations are then, everyone will know, and there won’t be any surprises. Back to my mom and I’s situation- I told her we had every intention of going to the rehearsal it just depended on our flights but I didn’t see any issue. Perhaps I shouldn’t have spoken in terms that she could misconstrue as absolutes? Or I should have researched flight times a little more before giving a response, and this could have avoided her setting expectations.

Acknowledge that you will not be able to control everything and everyone. I struggle with this one regularly, because I like being in full control; however, that is unrealistic. I like to say to myself before any event, “what will be will be.” Just saying it to myself helps me to set a realistic tone for the evening and pushes me to enjoy things as they are and not expect any more from the situation.

Expectations are tricky, but learning to manage them as well as other can assist you avoiding conflict and being disappointed.

Abigail R.C. McManus

Apprentice

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Holiday Homecomings – Preparing for Your College Child’s Return

house-19002_640-1I have heard the venting of frustration from college students and parents after Thanksgiving and Winter breaks have concluded.

It is a familiar story:

College student lives away from home and gets a taste of independence. They can stay up as late as they want, come and go as they please, eat whatever, where ever, and not have to worry about keeping their room clean or following the rules of their parents. College student excited for break returns home with the presumption that their parents will treat them differently because they are now an adult who has been living on their own and who makes up their rules. A college student comes home and finds their parents are treating them the same as when they were in high school.  They have a curfew; their parents are nagging them about helping out around the house and forcing them to visit with family when they would prefer to be spending time with their friends who were also away at school. Conflict arises and what was supposed to be a nice, relaxing break has now made the college student longing to be back at school.

Parents move their college student in at school. After a tearful good-bye, they hope and pray that their child makes the right decisions and all the good habits you have instilled in them will carry on at school. Parent’s miss college student and gets excited about Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks because they will get to spend time with their child who has been away at school. College student returns and they are different from the child they moved in at school. They suddenly think they can do whatever they want; come and go as they please, sleep into the late afternoon, not help around the house, and spend all their time with friends. Conflict arises and what was supposed to be a nice break filled with quality bonding time with college student has now made the parent dreading the summer break.

Can you see where the disparity in what the college student and parents think Thanksgiving and Winter Break will be like and how it can cause problems? How can we be pro-active so the holidays can be a joyous time for all?

First, acknowledge the possibility of change. Are you a college student coming home this holiday? Recognize that you are still your parent’s child despite your new-found independence. Be aware that they have missed you and that they may need some time to adjust to the changes you have made as a young adult. If you are a parent, you need to acknowledge that your college student may have changed since you dropped them off. They are still your child, but they are also becoming an independent adult.

Second, communicate and prepare. Before your college student comes home, it’s important to have a conversation about expectations. Yours and theirs. Will there be a curfew? How much time will be spent with family? How much time will be devoted to friends? What chores will they be responsible for while home? It is important that this is a discussion, and not the parents telling the college student what is going to happen. Parent’s remember your college student is not in high school anymore and certain rules may need further negotiation with an open-minded discussion. College students keep in mind; you are still under your parent’s roof which means to respect their way of life and their house rules.

Lastly, be patient. It may be difficult once your child returns home for them to recall the expectations discussed in earlier conversations. It is important to be patient through these adjustment periods. What may not be working this time around can be noted and discussed for the next holiday break.

The goal is that everyone has an enjoyable Thanksgiving and Winter break that remains conflict free or at least managed well. The first step is to be proactive before things get out of control and misunderstandings lead to long-term hurt feelings.

 

Have a good weekend,

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

Apprentice.

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How and Why to Avoid Political Talk at Work

beverly-jonesTracy-Culbreath

Are you sick of people discussing politics at work? Or are you one of those folks who can’t seem to stop talking about the candidates?

Political topics can be explosive, and it is difficult to predict which issues your colleagues may find to be truly upsetting. What starts as casual chat could spiral into an emotional brawl, upsetting people and disrupting working relationships. And even brief comments could offend some coworkers, harming your rep or setting you up for retribution down the road.

Understanding how to manage workplace communications is key to building a resilient career. Often the best strategy is “communicate, communicate, communicate.” But when the office conversation is about politics, the smart choice is usually to stop talking.

But sometimes it is not easy to deal with people who want to impose their views or tease you into reacting. In today’s program, Beverly Jones and Tracy Culbreath King will offer tips about how you can avoid becoming bogged down in political chatter at work.

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Festering Conflict: Address Disputes Before They Erupt

lava-67574_1280My second Minibük® Stop Avoiding Conflict: Learn to Address Disputes Before They Erupt will arrive in February, 2016. I chose to write about this topic because it is a very common approach my clients use to NOT deal with conflict. Organizations that reach out to me for assistance say “the employee says there is NO problem” or dismiss the hidden damage that avoiding conflict has had on working relationships and performance.

Most of us avoid conflict out of habit. A habit is a learned behavior based on an earlier formed belief and past experience that if I avoid/ignore/deflect, I will be safe. As a child, I learned to keep my mouth shut for fear of provoking my grandmother, who believed discipline came through physical, psychological and emotional threats. I learned to avoid conflict at all costs and, as a result, it became an early behavior pattern that continued into my early adult life. For many of us who hate conflict, there is a fear factor. A fear of not being liked, not being successful, not seen as a nice person, not viewed as competent and the list goes on. These fears prevent us from speaking up, voicing our concerns and asking for what we need. Unfortunately, the unaddressed issues fester growing into an ugly dispute and leading to a downward spiral in our working relationships. It can hurt productivity, contribute to stagnation and apathy, and be a barrier to decision-making. The irony is we try to avoid conflict to prevent this and yet, habitually avoiding conflict only leads to eroding trust and shaping people’s negative perceptions of us.

So, what do we do so the problem does not continue to fester and erupt? We must practice courage. Ruth Gordon says “Courage is like a muscle. We strengthen it with use.” Courage is a choice. Being courageous and fearless takes practice; it requires vulnerability; it means making hard decisions and it requires action. For many people, including me, encountering disagreement and facing escalating interpersonal conflict is scary. Interpersonal conflicts challenge our beliefs, value systems and self-image. The closer we are to someone in a relationship — whether it be our teenager, coworker, spouse, sibling, best friend, boss or neighbor — the greater the opportunity to practice being courageous and building our confidence.

Let’s look at how you can be courageous in the face of conflict.

  • Observe and listen for disagreements and misunderstandings. Watch for fight, flight or freeze behaviors in others and recognize your gut reactions of discomfort, anxiety or fear.
  • Acknowledge and address disagreements before they escalate. Recognize early signs or statements such as “I only see trouble ahead” or reactions of people sighing and walking away. Then, name the disagreement. Say, “I can tell you’re concerned about this. Let’s talk when you are ready.” By acknowledging concerns early, you may save a relationship or prevent unnecessary damage.
  • Get off automatic pilot. Know you can make a choice on how to respond to a conflict trigger. Reacting at lightning speed when someone pushes your hot buttons means you are on automatic pilot. Decide ahead of time how you want to respond in constructive ways, and practice that new behavioral response. For instance, if you typically shut down or walk away when triggered, practice staying and listening.
  • Neuroscience research shows how important breathing is to manage our intense emotional reactions such as rage, pain and fear. When you find yourself triggered, take breaths to slow down the racing thoughts and intense feelings. It will help you think more clearly and make constructive choices about how to respond.
  • Communicate one unmet need each day. Fear prevents many of us from communicating what we need, so we don’t ask. Identify one important but missing thing you need from someone else. For example, you need extra time from your co-worker to complete your part of an assignment. Ask, “Sue, it is important for us to turn in a complete and accurate report. I need your part of the report no later than 2 p.m.” Keep it simple and build confidence each day.

These are just a few examples of how to begin breaking the habit and taking courageous moments to have your voice heard.

Pattie Porter

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach®

 

 

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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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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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Repairing Relationships: How to Handle Conflict with Friends

FriendConflictClipartConflict really is inevitable in our lives. Whether it is with a neighbor or a coworker, conflicts of any size can easily arise. I am reminded of that fact, when I found myself recently in an unexpected conflict with my roommate. I have lived with the same student for almost three years now, and we have been friends even longer. The two of us have similar interests, get along pretty well and have not experienced any major conflicts over the past years as roommates. There have obviously been minor conflicts and verbal disagreements, but never anything serious or prolonged.

A couple of weeks ago my roommate asked me to pick up a prescription from the store. I went to the store, but it was too late, and the pharmacy had already closed. The next day I texted my roommate and told him that I would be able to go to the store after my class, but that I was really busy. He replied and asked for some apple sauce. I went to the store and was waiting to pick up his prescription, but the pharmacist repeated there was nothing in the system with my roommate’s name. After texting my roommate and waiting in the store for a while, I received a reply from him saying that he already picked it up earlier. I got upset that he did not let me know, and I had been waiting in the store the whole time for no reason. Due to an already stressful day, I got home and started arguing with him. After a few pointless insults had been thrown back and forth, he went into his room, and we did not talk for a couple of days.

I was upset that he did not communicate with me, and he did not seem to care that I unnecessarily went to the store and waited for a prescription that was not there. In contrast, he was upset by the way I reacted to the situation. After a few more days, we eventually started to talk to each other, and both agreed to sort things out. I apologized for entering the situation so angrily and starting the heated argument. In the end, it came down to a simple miscommunication. When I texted him about going to the store after class, my roommate interpreted that I was simply going to the store and not specifically for his prescription. Misinterpretations like this often lead to misunderstandings, lack of communication and often to snap judgments and angry reactions.

It is interesting how conflicts can easily arise between friends and even family members. After letting the conflict with my roommate settle, we started to communicate again and eventually resolved the conflict. An article in the Huffington Post, written by Rory Vaden, discusses some Rules of Relationship Conflict Resolution that can be helpful when dealing with conflict between friends. The first rule draws attention to not yelling and escalating the emotional aspect of the conflict. When one person begins the screaming match, it is common for the other individual to return the aggression, and this just delays any chance of resolution. The next rule stresses the fact that we should always remind the other individual that we want to resolve the issue and that we care about them. If you are arguing with the other person, it is important to remind each other of the major goals of finding a solution to the issue. The third rule states the importance of being able to accept that you may have a made a mistake even though you do not believe you did. This rule may be difficult for some people to implement because it is hard to admit mistakes and accept responsibility for your part of the problem. Still, if another person is clearly angry at you, there is a good chance that you played some role, however small, in that conflict.

Finally, I feel like the most important rule in the article focuses on striving to be the first to apologize when a conflict arises. Even though this may seem like you are admitting fault to the issue, you are taking a crucial step by opening communication and allowing for the conflict to be resolved. Ultimately, it is not about who is right, but rather focuses on the right way for us to solve this conflict.

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

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The New Trend in Listening: How to Improve Your Communication Skills and Enrich Relationships

 

Susan YoungIn this show, we kicked off March’s International Listening Awareness month with Susan Young. Susan is a news and communications expert with 25 years of experience.

I spoke with Susan about the “new trend” in listening she calls “silent listening.” The ability to quiet the mind, focus without distractions, and being in the moment…all with the purpose of improving business relationships.

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