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The Absolute Habit: Eliminating These Words From Your Conflict Communication

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert

 

 

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15 Observations about Life and Conflict- A Reflection

binoculars-1269458_1920I am an observant person. I have been fascinated by people and how they interact with one another, how they behave when they are alone, and why they ultimately do the things they do. Over the course of my twenty-seven years of life, I have observed the people around me and learned from these observations some key understandings about life and conflict.

Here is what I have learned:

  1. You cannot control most of the things and people around you. The one element in any given situation you have complete control over is yourself, and that makes you incredibly powerful.
  2. Optimism is better than pessimism. It brings a better outcome.
  3. If you spend all your time looking and thinking about the past, you’ll never move forward.
  4. You are human and you will make mistakes. Acknowledge when you do, apologize, and try and do better next time.
  5. Most conflicts come down to miscommunication between two people.
  6. Taking a few deep breaths can change a lot: your mood, your perspective, your ability to talk with reason.
  7. Knowing when to remain silent and when to speak up is one of the most important skills you can learn.
  8. There is something below the surface that someone is battling or holding on to, not every conflict is about you or something you did. You could have just been the trigger.
  9. There is a bigger picture. A small justice or victory now could result in damaging the bigger picture. Always keep that in mind.
  10. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can be a challenging task to achieve, however, doing it can completely change your point of view on the issue and the person.
  11. Taking time to think before responding can decrease the number of conflicts your words might cause later.
  12. When in doubt, genuinely apologize.
  13. Listening is far more important than speaking.
  14. You contribute to every conflict in some way – just like the tango conflict takes two.
  15. Many conflicts are not managed constructively, but when you see one that is, you’ll never look at conflict in the same way.

What have you observed about life and conflict in the world around you? I’d love to hear it!

 

Abigail R. C. McManus

Guest Blogger/ Host

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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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Conflict Chat: From Coconut to Closet Fights

 

Pattie8zena Zumetaclark.photo.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.

 

 

Discussion Topics:

1.  The Massive Mango

2.  Chris Christie Offers a Key to Marital Success: Fight in a Walk-In Closet

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