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Resolving Conflicts Constructively – Trust Me, It’s a Thing!

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

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

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

What is Mediation?

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

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

What is community mediation?

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

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

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

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

 

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

Guest Blogger/ Host

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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 Lemons lead to Misunderstanding

lemons-2039830_1920I recently re-watched the movie, The Break- Up starring Vince Vaughn (Gary) and Jennifer Aniston (Brooke). The title gives away the plot of the film which follows Gary and Brooke as they navigate through their break-up. There is a scene that occurs early on that demonstrates how misunderstandings can affect a relationship. In the movie, Brooke and Gary run into a dispute over lemons. Brooke asks Gary to bring home lemons for a decorative centerpiece for their dinner party they would be hosting. Instead of bringing back a bunch of lemons as Brooke asks, he only returns home with three. A fight ensues due to this misunderstanding.

How many times have you found yourself in a disagreement with someone over a misunderstanding?

I have experienced and observed conflicts over differences many times before at home, in the workplace, in social situations, among other settings. My husband Bernard and I have run into disagreements over what each of us defines, as a “few.”  I feel a few means four minutes, whereas Bernard believes a few means fifteen to twenty minutes. In the workplace, general statements like ” We need to make some calls to get the project done” can cause confusion if it isn’t clear who is designated to make those calls. Misunderstandings can cause many issues so it is important to know how to prevent these miscommunications before they can occur.

  1. Listen actively. When you are speaking with someone, stay present in the moment. We often don’t listen when others are speaking. Instead, we are thinking about what we will say next, or our minds wander to other things, which results in us not hearing everything the other person is saying. Active listening can be a preventative measure to avoiding misunderstandings.
  2. Ask clarifying questions. It is important to recognize that two people can have different definitions or make alternative assumptions to the same thing. Therefore, it is important to clarify and ask further questions to ensure everyone is clear.
  3. Reflect. If a misunderstanding occurs, recognize what you did to contribute to the misunderstanding and what you can do differently next time. In doing so, you can establish preventative measures to ward off miscommunication in the future.

Instead of making misunderstandings a common occurrence in your relationships and possibly causing further damage take these steps to avoid them.

 

Have a Great Week,

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

Guest Blogger

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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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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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The Guilt Trip – How to Address a Master Manipulator

Depositphotos_84031256_m-2015 (GuiltTrip)We’ve all experienced a guilt trip at some point in our lives.  Family members, co-workers, significant others, bosses, friends, are all likely candidates to enlist a guilt trip on you for some reason for another. Perhaps, you’ve even guilt-tripped someone in the past.

The bestselling author, Dr. George Simon describes a guilt trip as:

“A special kind of manipulation tactic. A manipulator suggests to the conscientious victim that he or she does not care enough, is too selfish, or has it easy. This usually results in the victim feeling bad, keeping them in a self-doubting, anxious and submissive position.”

I never looked at guilt trips as a form of manipulation, I always just associated it with a thing older relatives do. But it is manipulation; emotional, communication manipulation. An example of this would be, “If you cared about me, you wouldn’t X!” or “If you loved me as you say you do, then you would Y.” One example that I’ve heard before, “We don’t have many years left, you should call us while you can.” Anytime I have been at the receiving end of this behavior I have recognized that I feel guilty for whatever I did or didn’t do which is what the person wanted me to feel. I will then immediately apologize and try to figure out how to rectify the situation. However, I also notice whether in the moment or later that I will feel resentment. When I feel resentment, I recognize that it has an effect on my relationships, and I feel less inclined to do what that person wants the next time.

But if like me, you find yourself resenting the person or people guilt tripping you this must be addressed so that it does not damage your relationship.

It is important to recognize when you are being manipulated with a guilt trip. The guilt trippers know that by triggering your sympathy button, it will result in you feeling sorry for not behaving in the way that they want. Being able to recognize when this is happening will assist you in addressing it when it comes up.

I found a great article on PsychologyToday.com by Dr. Winch, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, and author that had two suggestions on how to address those who emotionally manipulate.

The first, Dr. Winch, Ph.D. suggests speaking to the person guilt tripping and, “Explain that their using a guilt trip to make you conform to their wishes makes you feel resentful, even if you do end up complying.” Acknowledging that you are aware of what they are doing could have a profound effect because you are calling out their behavior that they may believe they are hiding. It is important to express that the resentments that are festering are not something you want and you bringing it up is a way to alter these feelings.

Second, Dr. Winch, Ph.D. suggests is, “Ask them to instead express their wishes directly, to own the request themselves instead of trying to activate your conscience, and to respect your decisions when you make them.” It may be difficult for the person to respect your decisions especially if they are not receiving what they want at first. But, if they ask you directly to do something, it could make you feel more willing to do whatever they are asking. You may be more willing to do it because they asked you not because they guilted you into it.

We have all at one point or another been on the receiving end of a guilt trip and maybe even the deliverer. To make sure our relationships don’t suffer as a result of these experiences we must learn to address them directly.

 

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

Guest Blogger/ Host

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Reframing Campus Conflict

Straight from the Archives! Reintroducing our Guests, Dr. Nancy Giacomini and Jennifer Meyer Schrage, J.D., co-authors of “Reframing Campus Conflict: Student Conduct Practice through a Social Justice Lens” on August 22nd at 7 pm CST on Blog Talk Radio.

Dr Nancy GiacominiJennifer Meyer SchrageAre you a parent of a college student or an educator dealing with campus conflict? Maybe YOU are a student who’s gotten into some trouble on your campus? If so, this shows for you.

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Back to School: Building a Bridge of Positive Communication to Create a Positive Learning Process

Straight from the Archives! Reintroducing our Guest, Angela Woodrow, CEO, The Coaching Continuum, Inc. on August 8th at 7 pm CST on Blog Talk Radio.

angela woodrowParent, you are your child’s best advocate. Just like painting a room, the more preparation you do the better the result. It may seem like oversimplification when it comes to communicating to your school, especially if it has not always been the most positive process. Separating the facts, emotions, and results can be confusing.

In this program we highlight three free resources that will help you:

  • Gather the facts
  • Organize your information
  • Identify effective ways to communicate with your child’s school /teacher

Knowing your child’s learning style and being able to quantify and collaborate their interest and abilities to what is going on in the classroom is like having cliff notes for accelerated learning. If you are a parent who feels overwhelmed, dealing with the demands of work as well as your child’s school issues this conversation is for you. Angela Woodrow, whom as a coach, provides the opportunity for individuals and the organizations to discover distinctions, maintain focus, and develop and implement action plans. As a life long learner, she advocates for parents and teachers to build the bridge to positive education processes for all.

For more information on this subject check out these sites: Parent Driven Schools, Authentic Happiness, and  Love and Logic

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Conflict Chat- Ripped from the Headlines

Listen LIVE on July 25th at 7:00 pm CST at Blog Talk Radio. Call in to speak with our host, Pattie Porter (347) 324-3591.

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Got Conflict? If you have a conflict with someone and are not sure how to handle it, then let us know. Here is your opportunity to ask your question with Conflict Management experts who are mediators, conflict coaches, and facilitators on how to think about, analyze or resolve your situation.

Think about it. Are you currently engaged in an active conflict with your co-workers or boss? Ignoring your neighbor because of a conversation you don’t want to have? In a disagreement with your spouse? Or simply afraid to bring up a concern with a friend in fear of stirring up problems.

Join us live. Here is how:

  • Call 347-324-3591; press 1 and wait for a Host;
  • Use the Reply box below to post your question or conflict situation;
  • Join us in the chat room live on the night of the program. Post your comment or question here and we will bring it into the program;
  • Join our LIVE Twitter chat using #ConflictChat every Tuesday night at 5 pm Pacific/ 7 pm Central/ 8 pm Eastern

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The 3 C’s of Listening

Straight from the Archives! Reintroducing our Guest, Susan Shearouse, Principal, Frameworks for Agreement, on July 11th at 7 pm CST on Blog Talk Radio.

SusanShearouseListening is a skill. It is an art. It is a discipline. It is hard. It takes attention and practice. It takes awareness. It is particularly hard when you don’t want to hear the person who is talking to you. It is particularly hard in disagreements, arguments, and conflicts. How do we listen without being caught by the judgments, opinions, desires, justifications and stories rumbling around in our heads?

In this session, we will be talking with Susan Shearouse, Frameworks for Agreement. We will explore the 3 C’s of listening: how to prepare yourself and enter a difficult conversation able to hear what is being said, to be able to listen more effectively.

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