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Feuds: A Love-Hate Relationship

exchange-of-ideas-222786_1920There is something about a feud we love to watch and see unfold; and, there is a polar opposite feeling when we are directly involved and impacted by emotional disputes. We hate to be in one. There are numerous historical examples of famous family feuds such as the infamous Hatfield and McCoys. Hearing the family names conjures up fierce fighting, violence, and hatred. The media sensationalized the stories as time went on creating a lasting impression in American culture. FX television series recently portrayed another famous rivalry between iconic Hollywood actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in Feud: Bette and Joan.

Susan Sarandon plays Bette Davis’s role, and Jessica Lange plays Joan Crawford’s character. The spellbinding series captured my full attention, and I loved watching the two actresses, Sarandon and Lange give award-winning performances. What was interesting in watching the series is how the drama unfolded with each star positioning themselves to outperform the other and win at all costs. The women fought over acting roles, lovers, directing scenes, the limelight, and just about anything where one had power over the other. Unfortunately, Hollywood elite, gossip columnists, producers, and directors pitted Davis and Crawford against each other to keep the fight going creating a media buzz for high dollar ratings. Sarandon and Lange’s performance made me feel the tension, anxiety, frustration and anger as the two played out the intense scenes.

In yet another recent television series Fear Thy Neighbor on the Investigation Discovery channel, the series portrays real crime cases of neighbor feuds that resulted in intense fighting, verbal abuse, physical violence and even murder between families. In many of these cases, the neighbors started out being friendly and even good friends. In every single case, a seemingly small irritation occurred between two households such as driving over someone’s grass, playing loud music, or feeding the deer.

In each of these feuds, the misunderstandings and small disagreements could have been addressed early and simply if people had not closed the door to conversation. Instead, the silence and avoidance only lead to people making false assumptions, negative judgments, and increasing anger and destructive behaviors. It causes people to take sides and deepen the positions of right and wrong. The cycle continues until tensions and intolerance take over causing an eruption which is often damaging and can be deadly. The key to stopping a fight from becoming a lengthy feud is to address the situation early, calmly and constructively.

Obviously, television’s aim is to entertain, educate or touch their viewers. I must admit I am attracted to these types of programs but would hate to be personally involved in a feud. I tend to view these programs as an opportunity to learn what NOT to do. Here are things you can do.

  • Think about the possible consequences of your retaliatory behaviors
  • Consider other reasons for why the other person is upset with you
  • Approach the other person as someone who is in pain, fearful, or anxious versus someone who is evil.
  • Monitor your emotional thermometer taking measures not to boil over causing a surprising eruption

Next time you watch a movie or television series, observe the behaviors, non-verbal cues, and emotions that contribute to de-escalating a dispute and then try them out in your life.

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert

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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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Recognizing the Signs of a Conflict Storm

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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Listening to Your Triggers – How to Suspend Judgment When You Are Angry

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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Conflict Chat: Challenges in Working in a Gig Economy

Host – Pattie Porter

Got Conflict? Are you a worker taking on short projects or “gigs?” Many temporary employees and independent consultants work in a Gig Economy. As the gig economy grows so do the challenges that employers, HR managers and workers face when it comes to communication and managing conflict. We will also talk about “At Will’ employment and how it changes the employer’s view of conflict and how they can ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ by quickly terminating employees vs. taking the time to work through the issues.

 

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Reconciling Relationships – How To Rebuild Trust Once It Has Broken Down

u-leg-bridge-1370437_1920 (003)I recently observed two people reconciling after a long period of conflict between them. A breakdown in trust is what prompted the conflict, and now they were trying to determine how to move forward.

Trust can be a tricky thing. You must have some level of confidence with those you interact with as it is a significant element in most successful encounters. However, if you have faced distrusting people who have left you feeling disappointed or hurt in the past, you may find yourself unwilling or unable to trust.

In an article on the Beyond Intractability website titled, “Trust and Trust Building” by Roy J. Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson they provide a fantastic overview of trust between people.  Roy J. Lewicki and Edward C. Tomlinson explain:

The need for trust arises from our interdependence with others. We often depend on other people to help us obtain, or at least not to frustrate, the outcomes we value (and they on us). As our interests with others are intertwined, we also must recognize that there is an element of risk involved insofar as we often encounter situations in which we cannot compel the cooperation we seek. Therefore, trust can be very valuable in social interactions.

What I loved about this overview is that the authors mentioned the risk you take when you are putting your confidence in others, as that is the crux of the whole unspoken arrangement. Are you willing to put your confidence in this person and take the chance that they will come through on their end, whatever or however that may be?

Trust is involved in all social interaction. A wife and husband have to trust one another to remain faithful to their vows. Friends who share intimate details of their life must have confidence in each other not to share those secrets with anyone else. A boss must trust their employees to do their work. Even minuscule interactions like a mechanic and a customer require some level of trust.

Which brings me back to the two people I witness reconciling their relationship. Both parties wanted to reconcile and move forward, but once trust has broken down how do you get it back?

The essential element to rebuilding confidence in one another is communication. Speak openly and honestly about what caused the rift in your relationship. Having the ability to voice your frustrations and hurt feelings to the other person can assist in squashing any possible misunderstandings that developed. It also allows you the ability to feel heard, often we hold onto anger and sadness when we are not given the opportunity to tell the other person how we feel.  In some cases, one or both of you need to apologize. Sometimes a genuine apology is enough to reconcile and move forward. It can also be beneficial to express why you feel reluctant to trust the other person again. By discussing your reservations or theirs, it allows a chance to work with one another in brainstorming solutions to rebuild trust and strategies to address possible issues arising in the future.

A risk is always present when putting your trust in another person. If everyone is willing to reconcile, knowing how to rebuild trust in your relationship is essential in moving forward.

 

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

Guest Blogger

 

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Page Turner – Learning Conflict Resolution and Mindfulness Through Children’s Books

Photo by Abigail R.C. McManus

Photo by Abigail R.C. McManus

My niece turns two years old this week, and instead of toys, I like to buy her books. I always loved getting new books and hearing new stories as a kid, and that hasn’t changed since becoming an adult. I was walking through the Children’s section at the book store the other day looking for books for my niece when I stumbled upon a book titled, What Do You Do With A Problem by Kobi Yamada (author) and Mae Besom (Illustrator). The book begins with the child having a nameless problem. The problem is small at first, but as the child tries to ignore it, they find that it just becomes bigger, consuming their thoughts, and affecting their life. Finally, the child decides to face the problem head on and discovers their problem, “…held an opportunity. It was an opportunity for me to learn and to grow. To be brave. To do something.” The illustrations parallel the message, at the beginning of the story the pictures are gloomy and gray but as the child faces their problem, the images become more colorful. I love this book, and the message it conveys to kids. Avoiding a problem will likely only make it worse, and once you face it, you will discover there is something you can learn from it.

The book brought to my attention the unique ability adults have to convey conflict resolution, mindfulness, and problem-solving to their kids. I have theorized for many years that conflict resolution should be taught as a course in school. I feel if an emphasis was placed on tiny humans to learn to be mindful of themselves and resolve conflict constructively it will evolve into adulthood and then there is a potential that future generations will have more peaceful interactions than today.

I love that there are many children’s books promoting mindfulness and conflict resolution. I compiled a book list below of some other impressive options and the messages they convey that emphasize key elements in mindfulness and conflict resolution:

Thanks for the Feedback, I think? By Julia Cook  (Author), Kelsey De Weerd (Illustrator)

  • The book teaches children about receiving positive and negative feedback and how to act when you receive it.

My Mouth is a Volcano! By Julia Cook (Author), Carrie Hartman (Illustrator)

  • The book in a humorous way teaches children about listening to others, not interrupting, and being respectful.

Decibella and Her 6-Inch Mouth By Julia Cook (Author), Anita Du Falla ( Illustrator)

  • The book outlines how you can use your voice in varied situations to convey different messages and feelings.

What If Everybody Did That? By Ellen Javernick

  • The book teaches that there are positive and negative consequences of your actions and how those actions affect the people and world around us.

Cool Down and Work Through Anger By Cheri J. Meiners M.Ed

  • The book discusses the complex emotion of anger and how to work through it constructively.

The books listed above are just a few amazing options to teach children constructive conflict resolution skills like managing emotions, listening, productively conveying your message, handling feedback, and tackling problems head on rather than avoiding. Those skills are difficult for many adults to learn, therefore, teaching them to children early on can alter how they interact with others for the rest of their life.

What other children’s books discuss conflict resolution and mindfulness? Share  your findings in our comment section below!

 

Have a great week,

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

Guest Blogger

 

 

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Conflict Coaching: Empowering YOU to Move Through Conflict Constructively

Straight from the Archives!

In this episode we learn how conflict coaching can help YOU. Cinnie Noble talks about how she moved from a mediation practice to one of developing a full-time conflict coaching practice. Her conflict coaching model is a structured model developed from an evidence-based research.

We highlight how conflict coaching is different from counseling and other forms of coaching. The CINERGY conflict coaching model supports one in becoming conflict competent in engaging in conflict constructively. This type of coaching also supports one in moving through specific disputes.

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Professionalizing Mediation: Understanding the Impact of Taking the Next Steps

Jennifer Kalfsbeek

Dr. Jack R. GoetzThis is special episode held as part of the Virtual Track during the annual Association for Conflict Resolution (ACR) conference.

Professionalizing Mediation: Understanding the Impact of Taking the Next Steps

Mediation is a powerful process but is still largely society’s best kept secret outside of the litigated case arena.  Further professionalizing mediation promises to create public awareness and increase utilization.  We will examine the impact of taking the next steps for mediators and disputants alike.”

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Conflict Dynamics – Identifying Your Behaviors

Dr. Debra Dupree…helping people master relationships

Got Conflict? In this episode, we will be talking with Dr. Debra Dupree, Relationships at Work, Inc. She is a certified master trainer for the Conflict Dynamics Profile (CDP). This profile identifies the hot buttons, and conflict behaviors that one uses when they are confronted by conflict. Are your behaviors constructive or destructive when you are confronted with conflict? How do we identify these behaviors and how do we begin to change?

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