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Home for the Holidays: Reconnecting Authentically with Successful Conversations

friends-581753_1920The holidays are a time filled with catching up with old friends and family. Since electronic communication has taken over the world; the face-to-face conversation has become a difficult one to hold for many people. Therefore, below is a list of do’s and don’ts on how to generate successful dialogue with your relatives and old friends.

DO listen attentively. A conversation should be a back and forth effort, and for that to occur you must be able to listen and respond to what the person is saying. It is important to make eye contact with the person speaking, give a nod or some other sort of acknowledgment that shows the person you are listening such as, “That must have been exciting for you”.

DO ask questions. My mother once told me that if I ever find myself stuck in conversation to ask the person questions about themselves and I found this to be very successful. It is important to ask open-ended questions – ones that cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, “How did that impact the kids when you moved to the new neighborhood?”

DO end the conversation. I say this one because once the conversation begins to taper off people don’t know how to conclude the dialogue politely and what transpires is an awkward ending or silence. Therefore, when you notice the conversation has reached its end, add a few comments or appreciative remarks to conclude. Every good conversation has a beginning, middle, and end. Simply say, “I appreciate you sharing that experience with me.”

DON’T use your cell phone unless it’s an emergency. People today are constantly connected. It becomes difficult for two people to have a conversation if one or both of them are checking their social media or texting others. It also sends the message the person you are currently face-to-face with is not as important as the person on the other end of the phone. So, therefore, put the phones away even having them out in plain sight can be distracting.

DON’T interrupt. When the person is speaking, don’t cut them off to share your insight or personal story, or finish their sentence if you anticipate it’s ending. Both would imply that you were not actively listening to what the person was saying and don’t think what they are saying is important.

DON’T discuss or make jokes about taboo topics. Nowadays, we don’t always know where people, including our family and friends, stand on politics, religion, healthcare, and other sensitive topics – including our family and friends. Therefore, it is best to politely change the subject or avoid making jokes about sensitive material to maintain a successful dialogue.

Conversations with old friends and relatives during the holidays does not need to be an awkward exchange. Instead, use these Do’s and Don’ts to help increase the chances of a successful conversation.

 

Happy Holidays,

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

Apprentice

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Are You a Fearless Challenger? Moving from Debate to Dialogue

deciding-1364439_1920I was watching the morning news where violence erupted at a recent US Presidential race rally. Hotly contested, this year’s presidential race between the Republican and Democratic parties include flying accusations, lying, shooting barbs and winning at all costs. Of these running mates, the question debated is who would best serve as the US leader? And yes, families at dinner tables, community leaders, political parties, friends, and co-workers are arguing and forcing their points of view of which candidates are relevant, competent, and reputable.  The arguments focus on who is right, points out flaws, and often takes a strong position for one candidate over the other. It is the news of the day, every day.

I bring this up because I see and hear the damage that debate causes among us versus a more constructive dialogue approach to discussing vast differences of opinions. So, what is the difference between debate and dialogue? In school, we learn that debate is a formal, structured process to bring opposing arguments over a particular topic or issue. However, what we see and experience is that informal, unstructured debate based on false assumptions, what we hear in the media, and turning that into our truths. In Daniel Yankelovich’s book, The Magic of Dialogue: Transforming Conflict into Cooperation, a debate is focused on right and wrong, truth or lie, black or white. It is taking an offense approach leading to a defense reaction. If I am right in my thinking, then you MUST be wrong in your opinion. Right? A debate involves behaviors that are often destructive and damaging to relationships, communities, and whole societies. Debating often turns into being combative, judgmental, opinionated, and insulting.

Dialogue, on the other hand, is about listening to understand and to learn about the issue discussed. Dialogue is about sharing our personal experiences as it relates to the topic without judgment of the other person’s different points of view. We all have a fundamental need to be heard and understood. Dialogue provides an opportunity to be open-minded about the differences we encounter and to engage in these differences in a constructive and productive manner. I had a wonderful opportunity to train and become a facilitator in the Soliya Virtual Connect program. The program aims to provide cross-cultural dialogues to engage people from various cultures, backgrounds and experiences from around the globe. This virtual platform tapped into strong differences of opinions on all topics from religion to social and global challenges including immigration, terrorism, gender roles, and even US Presidential candidates.

So, the similarity between debate and dialogue is that there is a topic or issue which has varying points of view that people feel strongly about and want to vocalize. Conflict will result from these discussions. An informal debate often takes a nasty turn where dialogue can promote learning and deeper understanding. In a debate, there is a winner and a loser. In dialogue, all points of view are acknowledged without the need to convince someone they are wrong. As a co-facilitator working with my partner, Kirti Kler from New Dehli, India, we worked very hard to engage our group on very difficult topics. We knew we needed to guide the conversations into conflict territory and challenge our group’s thinking, invite them to share their personal experiences while being fearless ourselves. We listened for moments of opportunity where these strong differences of opinion emerged to engage the conversation further. Sometimes, it felt daunting, scary and questionable about how we were to turn these debates into constructive dialogue. We persevered with the help of our fabulous coach, Amanda Brown and the Soliya team.  By the end of the eight weeks of dialogue sessions, the group learned skills in how to engage more effectively in dialogue within their families, local communities, and workplaces. After three months of training and facilitating, Kirti Kler, Amanda Brown and I were awarded the “Fearless Challenger” award by the Soliya team in seizing the difficult moments and turning them into opportunities for deeper understanding and learning.

Are you willing to be a Fearless Challenger? Then simply listen to learn and understand the other’s point of view. Don’t be afraid of it. Engage in the difference.

Learn more about the Soliya Virtual Connect program and how you can become involved.

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Founder and Host

The Texas Conflict Coach

 

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Did you see what she posted? Tips for Teenage Tiffs, Fights and Quarrels Online

browsing-15824_1280I am standing in the checkout line at a clothing store the other day when I overheard two teenage girls discussing a recent fight they had with another girl, “Emma” on social media. Apparently, Emma tweeted an ambiguous quote about being a bad friend, and one of the girls knew she was directing the comment at her, despite Emma not using her name, because of the pictures she had recently posted with a boy Emma use to date. The other girl responded that Emma always puts stuff online but won’t ever say things to your face. The girl who was offended by Emma’s ambiguous quote responded, ” Yeah I know, I am seriously about to unfriend her...”

The interaction between these two girls brought up several concerns for how teens interact online.

The first concern is jumping to conclusions about what you read online. The two girls had no idea whether Emma was talking about them or not when she posted the quote. The girl assumed it was about her and rather than asking Emma directly; she jumped to conclusions.

The second concern piggybacks off the first. One girl stated, “Emma always does this stuff online but won’t say things to your face.” Again, there isn’t direct communication to check out those assumptions. On one side of the coin, the internet and social media gives people who are shy, introverted or even conflict averse, a voice. This can be good. On this other side of the coin it can be bad. This leads to my 3rd concern.

My third concern with this interaction is that without any dialogue between Emma and the girl who is offended, Emma is willing to “unfriend” her and end their friendship. The public nature of social media and the peer pressure to take action not only leads to false conclusions but hurt feelings, misunderstood intentions, and unnecessary conflict.

An article by Amanda Lenhart from Pew Research Center highlights some interesting statistics regarding social media, conflict and friendships. Lenhart shares, “About one-in-four teens (26%) have fought with a friend because of something that first happened online or because of a text message.” Another statistic Lenhart expounds, “58% of teens who are on social media or have a cell phone have unfriended or unfollowed someone that they used be friends with.”

Technology brings a lot of good to the world, but the conflict I overheard is a part of the bad it brings. The conflict discussed brings up a concern for the rising adolescent generation who have never known the world without cell phones and the internet. The majority of teen’s interactions appears to be in these two forums. Consider this. When vague comments set you off, or you view a picture online that stirs up drama, or you are unfriending anyone you are in conflict with, what will come of that relationship? If you were on the receiving end of being unfriended or unliked, how would you have preferred that friend to have handled the situation?

The best advice: Go offline; Put Down the Phone; and Have a Face – To -Face Conversation.

I am not suggesting remove yourself from social media and completely go off the grid, which for many of you teenagers would experience as a form of torture. However, we see information online and jump to conclusions; take what you read and see it at face value. It is important to remember that you have more confidence to say whatever you think and feel online and in text than face – to – face. The ending of a friendship online does not resolve the conflict offline. Just because you can no longer see your friend’s statuses, tweets, or photos doesn’t mean you don’t see them in person and still have to deal with the perceived conflict.

Quick tips:

* People are more willing to talk openly with you when you are one – on- one. Pull the person aside privately and directly ask if you have done something to offend them. Simply ask “I saw a post and wanted to know, have I done something to make you upset?”

* Raising a conflict face-to-face makes many people uneasy. After the initial inquiry, regardless of whether the post was about you or not, then simply state,” I just wanted to make sure so we could clear the air.”

* Don’t be so quick to unfriend/unfollow. It is a nice feature to have at the click of a button, but impulsively severing friendships can cause more damage and be harder to repair.

Technology and social networks have connected everyone in so many amazing ways. It has also changed how we communicate, interpret and interact creating positive and negative impacts.

 

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

Apprentice

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