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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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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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“Remain Calm!” – Maintaining Composure When the Boss Attacks

Keep Calm and Guide the Universe
Keep calm and guide the universeMy nephew “Burt” was a reliable employee for two years with the same landscaping company. Fairly soon into his job, Burt noticed the boss seemed to single him out for criticism. The boss’s criticism turned into swearing, public ridicule, and name-calling. Burt tried to ignore these attacks, but eventually he lost his temper and yelled back, calling his African American supervisor the derogatory “N” word. Burt was immediately fired. How is this fair? Why is the boss able to be offensive without consequences? Why was my nephew fired for one angry outburst? News flash folks: Life is not fair. Bill Watterson, author, and illustrator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, describes a father teaching his son this hard lesson:  “The world isn’t fair, Calvin.” “ I know Dad, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?”

People who work with rude, sarcastic and downright abrasive leaders may wonder the same thing. Losing your temper and retaliating against the boss will probably get you reassigned or terminated. Though it is not fair, it is life. How can you maintain professional composure when provoked?

Keep Calm and Carry On

When we become reactive to another’s actions or words, we are operating out of our primal “fight, flight or freeze” response. Daniel Goleman, the author of Emotional Intelligence, explains that the surge of adrenaline, rapid heart rate, increased blood flow to arms and legs—called Amygdala Hijack— diverts energy away from logical thinking. “…We tend to fall back on over-learned responses, which are responses learned early in life—which can lead us to do or say things that we regret later. It is important to understand that the impulses that come to us when we’re under stress—particularly if we get hijacked by it—are likely to lead us astray.” Goleman suggests that regular mindfulness practices help create space between our impulses and taking action, allowing us to make better choices in our responses.

Everyday mindfulness

Jon Kabat-Zinn founder of the Center for Mindfulness at University of Massachusetts Medical School says, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Many people imagine mindfulness meditation as an Asian guru sitting for hours, eyes closed, quietly chanting or breathing. This image seems idealistic and impractical in our modern world. However, many everyday tasks become mindfulness practices if we take a moment to “pay attention in a particular way, on purpose.” The following ideas from Zen Habits can fit easily into our routines

  1. Do one thing at a time—do not multitask. For example, when exercising, do not listen to music but pay attention to your breath and how your body feels. If you are outside, notice the sights and sounds around you.
  2. Take your time doing a task and make your actions deliberate. When brushing your teeth, for instance, notice how your hand holds and operates the toothbrush. Pay attention to the action of brushing each tooth.
  3. Spend five minutes each day doing nothing. Give yourself permission to sit in silence or take a short walk without distractions.

Listen to our podcast Your Brain on Conflict: “Resistance is Fertile” with Scott Rogers for more insights about the neuroscience of mindfulness.

Mindfulness practices are very effective when they become a habit, but what to do when caught off guard in the middle of an “Amygdala Hijack”?

Immediate Strategies

Elizabeth Lowman writing for The Muse gives some helpful hints in “How to Keep Your Cool at Work” Here are just a few of her suggestions:

  1. Breathe – take long slow breaths to clear your mind before you react without thinking.
  2. Write down your thoughts – vent your frustrations on paper. Be very careful that no one can read them. Avoid using the computer or an email program. Accidentally hitting the ‘send’ button can cause more harm.
  3. Reach out to friends and loved ones by making a quick call or send a text message to change your perspective on the current situation.
  4. Take a break. Leave your phone and email at the office and take a walk or get lunch creating some needed distance.

Benefits to Keeping Calm

Eleanor Roosevelt has famously declared, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” By keeping your behavior professional and calm, you maintain power and confidence, increasing your own Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ). Sheri Callahan shared EQ skills for the workplace in our podcast Emotional Intelligence for Today’s Workplace.

Wendy Mayfield

Master’s Program

Dispute Resolution & Conflict Management

Southern Methodist University

 

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Name Calling – When Will It STOP?

Robert Fulghum, an American author, is quoted as saying “Sticks and stones will break our bones, but words will break our hearts” not to mention our spirits. Name calling, mudslinging, defaming and insulting words are all about impulsively responding to someone or something that is a threat to the beliefs, values or attitudes we hold dear. We learn it as kids as way to protect ourselves and to hurt others intentionally or not. Unfortunately, we carry these deep wounds and/or bad behaviors with us into adulthood. If you are someone who habitually uses name-calling as a defense mechanism, explore what is behind this behavior. We will share some questions for your consideration. If you are someone who holds deep wounds from the act of name-calling, then explore how to move beyond the hurt and change how you engage with someone who continues to insult you.

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