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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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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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“That’s None of Your Business” – Setting Limits with Nosy People

sculpture-2209152_1920We have all met nosy people in our lives. Nosy people ask intrusive and sometimes rude questions, they overstep boundaries, and they tend to make others feel uncomfortable. What I find interesting is in situations where I am speaking with a nosy person, they don’t seem all that interested in my responses on the subject just in how the information I provide effects them.

For example, I have a nosy coworker; I will call her Dana. Dana has been training another coworker; I will call her Sandy. Sandy and I have an established relationship as I worked with her previously at another company. Since we have a relationship, Sandy feels comfortable coming to me if she is struggling with a particular issue, to get my guidance or perspective. Last week, Sandy was in my cubicle, and Dana walked by and jokingly asked if we were gossiping, to which we laughed and said “No” as we weren’t. Dana then left for her lunch break, upon returning she then proceeded to ask me what we were discussing and if it was about her. I have found myself in this situation with Dana many times, where she boldly asks about my conversations with other coworkers and even our boss.

When this incident occurred last week, I recognized that I was getting triggered by Dana’s intrusive question. I became mindful of my annoyance, and I felt the strong urge to bite my tongue to avoid saying anything that could escalate a conflict or that I would regret. Once Dana walked away I reflected on this, why did Dana’s question trigger such a strong emotional response from me? I felt irritated because I value privacy.  Dana assumed she’s entitled to this information and she seems to lack of awareness that it is none of her business what I discuss with my coworkers or boss. Once I acknowledged why I felt triggered, I was able to determine what I can do next time I am faced with a nosy intrusion – not just from Dana but anyone.

Don’t lash out. The question they are asking can be rude and inappropriate. It can be natural to respond in the same fashion. However, as I mentioned before, negatively responding could cause a conflict to escalate and make the situation worse.

Change Subjects or Postpone. If you are uncomfortable, try to shift the topic to something different. Ask them a question about something unrelated to take the spotlight off of you. Or, postpone responding altogether by saying, ” Would you mind if we discuss this later? I am in the middle of something that I need to finish.”

Be honest. Vocalize to the person what you are feeling and be truthful in how you respond. You could say, “Dana, I know you like to be included, and yet, I feel it is intrusive when my private conversations are being interrupted by your need to know all that is said. I assure you that I am not talking about you or gossiping.”

Have a “go to” response. Prepare a generic response for when you get asked a meddlesome question and keep it short. You could say, ” I feel uncomfortable talking about private matters.”

Respond to the question, with a question. I thought this might be the best course of action with Dana. Next time she asks about what I was discussing with a coworker, I can respond by asking, “Say more as to why this is important for you to know my conversations.” If she responds that She wanted to know “if we were talking about her?” I could ask, ” What makes you believe we were talking about you?” By doing this, it takes the attention off of you and puts it back on the asker. However, be mindful of your tone to make sure you don’t sound defensive, or angry.

Family, friends, co-workers, acquaintances, complete strangers, all have the potential to ask nosy questions, knowing how to respond and handle those encounters constructively can make an uncomfortable situation more pleasant.

 

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

Guest Blogger

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Love thy Neighbor? Except Online – How Online Neighborhood Groups Escalate Conflict

Photo taken by Abigail R.C. McManus

Photo taken by Abigail R.C. McManus

I belong to a Facebook group for the neighborhood in which I reside. I joined when I first moved here six years ago, and up until recently, I have found the group to be entertaining and informative. People post all sorts of things from pictures of funny sights around town to social happenings to crimes.  My feelings regarding this online forum, have reduced to frustration and concern due to the absurd amount of conflict that escalates on what feels like every single posting. The conflict on the page has gotten so bad that the administrators have had to step in and take action to censor the posts due to the conversations escalating into name-calling, nasty remarks, and all around hateful speech.

What I find surprising about these conversations is the internet provides a sense of security for those who want to be aggressive and abrasive and remain anonymous – but these are fellow neighbors, people you are likely to run into at the grocery store, out at a restaurant, or at the gym. Despite living in an urban setting, our section of the city feels very much like a small town.

So why might these individuals feel vindicated to resort to this hostile behavior online in our neighborhood group? I concluded three reasons. The first is a common reason most people speak out online; they are more inclined to be open and honest because the person to whom they are speaking is not in front of them getting emotional and reacting. The second reason is members of the group enjoy having the ability to write detailed and lengthy monologs stating their case or telling their story skewed in a derogatory way without interruption, a luxury you likely wouldn’t get from a face-to-face conversation.  Finally, neighbors feel they are supporting a cause. Many of the posts are seemingly innocent, and somehow one thing leads to another, and the conversation shifts to hot topic issues like politics, race, ethnicity, sexism, police brutality, lack of economic funds, immigration, and the list go on and on.

I picked up on some common traps my fellow residents fall into when communicating in this online forum that quickly leads to escalation and what neighbors can be mindful of moving forward:

  1. Name-calling. “Bigot,” “Racist,” Ignorant,” “Dense” are just four examples on one conversation thread that I saw. Once Neighbor A says Neighbor B is ignorant, Neighbor B then gets defensive and retaliates calling Neighbor A dense. The issue escalates, and other people jump in, and before you know it, the thread has gone completely off the rails. Every time this happens I recall what I was taught in a kindergarten class, “When you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.”
  2. 2. Challenging Beliefs and Values. I have read so many posts where neighbors speak of their faith or their respect for the military or their longing for kindness from their fellow neighbors. Instead, they receive angry worded retorts or eye-rolling emojis. To have a productive conversation one must come to it with an open-mind. It is also important to acknowledge the other person feels just as strongly about what they are saying as you do about what you are saying.
  3. Misinterpretation. Online communication does not convey tone, verbal cues, or body language and because of that the risk of miscommunication surrounding post increases. While I am overjoyed when a fellow neighbor responds with a clarifying question, it doesn’t happen often. Many threads run rampant with the original poster trying to backtrack and explain what they meant, which results in the responders disregarding the initial point of the post entirely. It is crucial to be mindful of the shortcomings of online communication and combat it by asking questions, clarifying, and managing your tone.
  4. Going for the Win. Neighbor A knows what they are saying is right. Neighbor B also feels what they are saying right. Both will battle it out until one decides they are sick of arguing and signs off of Facebook. The remaining neighbor gloats about winning. What isn’t pointed out is that no one won. No one’s viewpoints altered nor were any feelings acknowledged. Most often the only change is the way Neighbor A and Neighbor B feel about one another and how all subsequent neighbors reading the heated exchange now feel about them.

In these neighborhood disputes going for a win in a written post only furthers the divide between residents. If growth and genuine change are to occur, then approaching one another and attempting to understand each other’s viewpoints is the direction to take.

 

Have a good weekend,

Abigail R.C. McManus, MS Negotiation and Conflict Management

Guest Blogger

 

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