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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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Conflict Chat with….Pattie Porter, Tracy Culbreath King and Abigail McManus

Tracy Culbreathclark.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.

“How does the ignorance of Muslim customs and beliefs, along with the fear of Arabic speaking individuals impact how we engage with these differences? Read about the recent incidents of fear-based discrimination on popular Southwest Airlines in the U.S.”

Discussion Topics:

  1.  “Southwest Airlines draws outrage over man removed for speaking Arabic,” The Guardian, Apr 16, 2016
  2. “Muslim woman kicked off plane as flight attendant said she ‘did not feel comfortable’ with the passenger,” The Independent, Apr 15, 2016
  3. “I used to be a flight attendant. Dealing with passengers’ racism is part of the job”.

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Taboo Topics – How to Manage High Conflict Subjects on Religion, Money, and Politics

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There are three topics they say you should not discuss when you’re in polite company: religion, money, and politics. However, with the grandstanding of political candidates engaging in conflict and drama-filled debates, it’s difficult to avoid talking politics when gathering with family and friends.

It is important to remember when a taboo topic works its way into the conversation that people hold their beliefs and values in high regard. Therefore, immediately attacking their position is a surefire way to find yourself in conflict.

It may seem impossible, but there are some things you can do to help manage these conversations, so they do not get out of control. The very first thing to consider before engaging in these taboo topics is to decide upfront, what is your intention and/or goal for entering this territory? Is it a debate where you stand your ground holding on to your dear beliefs convincing and persuading the other person to join you on your side? Or is it a genuine dialogue and an opportunity to understand each other’s perspective? If it is the latter, then consider these strategies or skills.

  1. Listen. So you might not agree with Aunt Lucy’s political beliefs, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hear her out. Actively listening while she is speaking and not formulating your rebuttals or cutting her off shows consideration and respect. When she finishes talking, you then have the opportunity to voice your opinion. If you didn’t cut her off, there is a likely chance she won’t cut you off. However, if she does you could say, ” Aunt Lucy, I would like to voice my standpoint and then get your response. Would you be willing to listen without interruption?”
  2. Don’t attack. Be careful using words or phrases like: “stupid” or “ridiculous” or” that’s insane” or ” I can’t believe you like him/her.” It is essential that you don’t attack their views because in doing so you will find they will get defensive. Once this happens, feelings can get hurt, someone could say something they don’t mean, and no productive or reasonable conversation can occur.
  3. Ask questions. You may not agree with what they are saying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ask questions to gain further understanding of their views. Perhaps, having an open mind and asking questions will open up a greater discussion. Asking questions will also so interest in the other’s views which can make them feel respected and appreciated. For example, “Uncle Jim, what is it you have heard in the media that has contributed to your opinion?”
  4. Breathe. Uncle Jim’s beliefs may ultimately clash with your convictions, and you might notice that your triggers are going off and that you’re getting angry. Take some deep breaths or excuse yourself for a moment to gain composure. But keeping your anger in check is an absolute must if you want to avoid intense and unconstructive conflicts.
  5. Agree to Disagree. The likelihood that you will change the other person’s opinion is far-reaching. There is a chance you might not even find common ground. But, doing one through four of these tips will help keep the conversation productive. You could say very kindly say, ” I hear what you are saying Uncle Bill, but I respectfully disagree. However, thank you for taking the time to explain your views.”

Nowadays everyone appears to have polarized views on religion, politics, and money. Disagreements on those views are bound to arise when they are discussed so figuring out how to manage those conversations constructively is key to avoiding intense conflicts and possibly damaging the relationship.

 

Have a Great Week!

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

Apprentice.

 

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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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Church Turbulence – Resolving Conflict with Communication, Conversation and Community

church-split-5Conflicts are a substantial part of everyone’s life. Whether you are driving to work or walking your dog, conflict can be sparked by any simple situation. Not only is conflict unavoidable, but it also has no barriers. It is present in small group meetings and even in large classrooms. From town hall meetings to church communities, conflict remains a key characteristic of human interaction. However, one might wonder how it could even be possible for conflicts to arise in a peaceful setting such as a church. Disagreements and misunderstandings are realistic possibilities for potential conflicts in church communities. Differences about religious strictness and practices, as well as other secular disputes between members are common conflicts in the church as well. Variances in beliefs as well as the willingness to modify views also create many disagreements.

This week’s Texas Conflict Coach® radio program featured Joey Cope, the Executive Director of the Duncum Center for Conflict Resolution. Their website provides resources for resolving conflicts in the church. One page, Resolving Church Conflicts, provided by the Center, states that in order to be successful in resolving church related conflicts, one “must seek a commitment to peace — for you personally, for your church leaders, and eventually for your entire church membership”. Their strategies for peace-making rely on what they call “the 3 C’s”.

The first strategy is Communication. The article stresses the importance of actively dealing with conflicts in the church rather than avoiding them. Communication is a key aspect when attempting to reach a resolution between parties. The second strategy draws upon communication, and takes it a step further. Conversation is an enrichment of communication and deals more directly with interpersonal exchanges of ideas between parties. Conversation allows individuals to establish basic relationships, while building the skills necessary to express their perspectives. The final strategy deals with the importance of Community. Possibly the most important aspect of “the 3 C’s”, a committed community is essential for conflict resolution to take place. Additionally, it is important for church leaders to be dedicated to their beliefs. This devotion to the church makes getting to a resolution more significant and conceivable. The article stresses the importance of community by stating that “if we have no commitment to community, we will never see peace in our churches.”

Churches and church communities might be hesitant to seek a neutral third party to help resolve disputes because of the belief that conflicts should not occur in the first place. According to Joey Cope, “Peace is not the absence of conflict.” Conflicts do arise in a peaceful environment and can be resolved through religious principles and practice. Realistically, some conflicts in the church will require a third party neutral to facilitate conversations in order to find a mutual resolution. Check out another previous radio program, Mediating with True Believers, to learn more about how church members use neutral mediators and how religious communities respond to conflict, in general.

 

John Wagner

Student Intern

Salisbury University – Conflict Analysis and Dispute Resolution

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