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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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Listening to Your Triggers – How to Suspend Judgment When You Are Angry

Pertinent Points

  • A hot button or trigger word can be words, a tone of voice, or a particular way someone conveys body language that sets you off.
  • Everyone has different hot buttons and trigger words that can cause them to become angry.
  • When we are feeling triggered we automatically rush to judgment about what the other person is saying or doing.

Key Question: How can you listen past their anger or yours?

Identify your physiological triggers.

It is essential to know when you begin feeling triggered, whether your face gets hot, shoulders tense, or your stomach starts turning, being able to recognize when you are triggered helps you to be more efficient in addressing it.

Take the judgment out of what happened.

When we are in a hot-button moment, we unconsciously jump to judgment. We feel accused, devalued, disrespected, or powerless. We judge what the person said and frame it negatively without considering that what we interpreted may not have been what the person intended.

Breathe to Calm Judgmental Thoughts.

Take deep breaths to calm yourself when you are feeling triggered. By taking deep breaths, you allow oxygen to the brain which can directly impact the adrenaline pumping through your system. By calming yourself down, you allow yourself to hear what the other person is saying without becoming defensive.

Be Curious in Conversation.

Ask the person questions about what they are thinking and feeling, to learn more about what is going on with them. Observe what is going on with the other person so you can begin to understand and question the situation.

Develop Self- Empathy.

Identify your feeling words to understand and determine what exactly you need at that moment.

Assignment for the week:

In our interview with Susan H. Shearouse on the Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, Susan suggested an assignment to listen to your reactions. Listen for the moments when you are hooked by trigger words and hot buttons, and spend some time identifying your feelings at that moment and what your needs are to address those feelings.

To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire episode entitled, Hot Buttons and Trigger Words: How to Listen Past Your Anger or Theirs.

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

Guest Blogger

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Take Five! – How Adults Can Benefit from a Time Out

 

Clock

A time-out according to Wikipedia, “Is a form of behavioral modification that involves temporarily separating a person from an environment where unacceptable behavior has occurred.” It is a disciplining technique we associate with children. The logic behind the time-out method is that if you remove the child from a fun surrounding when they do something wrong, then it will eliminate that behavior.

Although this is a popular discipline method with children, it is also one that adults can and should use as well. I am not ashamed to admit that my husband Bernard has successfully used this technique on me, whether he is aware of it or not.

Before I explain how he did this, I must first clarify why it was necessary. My preset response when in conflict is to fight. By this I mean, I won’t listen, I get defensive, I make demands, I speak in absolutes, and lastly, the worst, in my opinion, I yell. Many times when my emotions are running high, I don’t even realize my voice has gone up two octaves. Although I have made numerous changes in how I engage in conflict, I feel I will always be a work in progress. It is not simple to make modifications to our behavior without mindfulness, perseverance, and I believe the help of others. Which brings me back to my husband, Bernard and how he assisted in correcting my conflict behavior.

We got into a heated conflict some months back. I was yelling, and Bernard asked me to stop. I responded how I always did when he said this to me, “I am not yelling.” Finally, Bernard had reached his tolerance limit and told me that we were having a verbal time-out for five minutes. I began to protest, but he held up his hand implying he would not be continuing unless I stop speaking for five minutes. So I sat in silence, at first I was annoyed by this pause.

It felt like a break and taking a break from conflict always felt counter-intuitive to me. While I know it can be helpful for you to calm down and be more productive when you come back to it, I still felt like it thwarted the momentum of the discussion. Usually, one person initiates the break, and it is that person who seems to hold power as to when the conversation recommences. Being as I am impatient I never liked conflicts to linger, and I found when breaks were initiated it prolonged a resolution.

As I continued to sit in silence, I noticed that I had calm down. When Bernard spoke after the five minutes, he said, ” Okay, I am willing to listen to you if you speak calmly, if you start yelling I’m initiating another time-out.” I felt irritated that he spoke to me like a kid, but in hindsight, my yelling did mirror a temper-tantrum thrown by a child. Now months later, I can acknowledge that his insistence on a five-minute time-out when I would start yelling (this occurred several more times) is what led to the minimizing of that behavior. I now will catch and correct myself before he even has an opportunity to say something.

If you are like me, you are not a fan of time-outs when in a fight. A break meaning you leave the room or house, go for a drive or a walk, or do something else for a while and then come back to the conversation after some time has passed. Try taking a five-minute time-out instead. It removes the fear that the conflict will go unaddressed or that you won’t revisit it later. While also giving you a moment to calm yourself down.

Just like with children, a time-out can be beneficial for addressing and even eliminating poor behavior and assist you in becoming a better you in conflict.

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

Guest Blogger

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Blaming and Shaming Language – Stop The Shoulding

Illustration depicting an aerosol can with a blame remover concept.

Quick Tips We can stop “shoulding” on people by:

  • Changing our language – use “I” instead of “you” when addressing issues
  • Accepting ownership for our own actions
  • Turning negative self-talk into positive thoughts about ourselves

Key Question: How do I stop “shoulding” on people?

What is “shoulding?”

“You should have taken out the garbage before you went to work.”  “You should have checked the oil before you drove it.”  “You should have told her to bug off.”  Sound familiar?

 

Why we “should” on others

Unfulfilled expectations can be disheartening and damaging.  When things that we anticipate don’t come true, things come crashing down around us.  We have put too much of our success, happiness and needs on the shoulders of others.  When we are not happy, we tell ourselves it is their fault. They should do something different.

The effect of “shoulding”

Just hearing the word “should” places people in the position to justify, defend or retaliate.  “Shoulding” is blaming language and conveys a tone and attitude of judgment, disappointment or disapproval. This language can initiate or intensify conflict.

Replace “shoulding”

Use language that clearly conveys your needs and feelings in a way that you will be heard.  Avoid accusing others. Start sentences with “I” vs. “You.”

Instead of saying,  “You should have been straight with us.”

Say, “I am really angry and I need to understand what happened.”

Take responsibility:

Notice what “should” implies.  It implies some need that is not being met.  Dig deeper and ask what you are really upset about.

Shoulding can be blaming on everyone else rather than accepting responsibility for ourselves.  We can always take responsibility for our response.

Be Specific

Be very clear about what concerns you.  Avoid using “you,” speak from your own perspective.

Instead of saying:  “I felt really frustrated when you….”

Say:  “I felt really frustrated when “x” happened and the reason I was frustrated is that it undermined my authority.”

End with a Resolution Request

End with a request prevent conflict in the future.

Say:  “How can we handle this differently in the future? 

Or: “How can I prevent this in the future?”

Your Assignment

An assignment that can help you avoid “shoulding” on people:

  • Count and note the number of “shoulds” you hear this week.
  • Make a mental note of how people react if you or someone else “shoulds” on them

To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire podcast, Stop Shoulding on People  http://www.texasconflictcoach.com/2010/stop-shoulding-on-people/

Patricia “Pattie” Porter, LCSW, ABW, AAP

The Texas Conflict Coach

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Working Towards Forgiveness – A Model to Bring Peace to Your Life

 

Pertinent Points:

  • Forgiveness is a healthy and positive action you take for yourself.

    Peace and Forgiveness

  • Forgiveness can happen without reconciliation. However, reconciliation cannot proceed without forgiveness.
  • Apologies are never guaranteed. Forgiveness can occur without receiving an apology.
  • When you forgive someone, you are NOT condoning what they did or implying that it is okay.

How can the P.E.A.C.E Model assist in forgiveness work?

  1. Perception and Clarification. Think about clarifying your perceptions of your needs, values, and desires. Dr. LaVena Wilkin says to ask yourself, “How are you benefiting from holding onto the anger? How would you benefit if you released that anger, resentment, and blame?” Be honest with your responses.
  2. Empathetic Listening. Listen to your heart, and put aside what your ego and pride are telling you. Ignore the voice telling you that if you forgive this person, then you are saying it is okay what they did.
  3. Appreciating Diversity. Appreciate and acknowledge all the different feelings and emotions that are coming up for you. You are not wrong to feel what you feel.
  4. Collaborative Problem-Solving. Forgiveness takes work. While collaborating with the person with whom you are angry is ideal, sometimes that person doesn’t believe they did anything wrong and are unwilling to work with you to reconcile. Instead, reach out to your support network and do collaborative problem-solving with them.
  5. Emotional Intelligence. Be aware of what triggers you and why. Don’t deny your anger, instead acknowledge it. Dr. LaVena Wilkin explains, “When you are aware of your emotions you can discriminate against them and better understand why you do the things you do and why others do the thing they do.”

Your Assignment:

In our interview with Dr. LaVena Wilkin on The Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, Dr. Wilkins’ suggested an assignment that can assist you in forgiving others. This is task is for YOU.  Dr. Wilkins’ asks you to “Think about an area in your life that needs forgiveness work. Use the P.E.A.C.E Model to reflect and work through that area.”

To learn more about forgiveness, listen to the entire episode entitled: Forgiveness: The Gift You Give to Yourself

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

Guest Blogger

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Conflict Chat: Challenges in Working in a Gig Economy

Host – Pattie Porter

Got Conflict? Are you a worker taking on short projects or “gigs?” Many temporary employees and independent consultants work in a Gig Economy. As the gig economy grows so do the challenges that employers, HR managers and workers face when it comes to communication and managing conflict. We will also talk about “At Will’ employment and how it changes the employer’s view of conflict and how they can ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ by quickly terminating employees vs. taking the time to work through the issues.

 

Read, Listen, Share »

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What Is Wrong With My Good Intentions?

Behave Reminder for Young Person in Red Sneakers about to make a Step and Join the Party, Top View.

Quick Tips

  • Identify what triggers negative reactions for you.
  • Identify your intention.
  • Focus on changing some of your specific behaviors.

How do I make my intentions to be conflict competent a reality?

Intention rescue.

Have you made a commitment to hone your conflict resolution skills this year? Are you struggling, even feeling like a failure?   Let me give you a “rescue remedy” for bringing your good intentions to fruition.

Identify your triggers.

If a specific statement, action or person creates a conflict response, know this about yourself.  Be aware of what triggers a negative reaction in you.

Ask some questions.

Think about a situation or a person which triggers a conflict or negative response for you.  Ask yourself:

  • How do I want to be in this situation?
  • What are the values and beliefs I want to uphold in this situation? Example: “I want to be confident and strong.”

Make a commitment to your intention.

Write on card, “I am willing to practice being ___ (value or belief around this situation or person)

Example:  I am willing to practice being forgiving.

This act of willingness says a lot about your commitment.

Translate commitment to behavior.

Identify the behavior(s) necessary to meet the commitment.

Example:  I might ask myself, “How do I be forgiving?” 

Then I look at the behavioral responses I personally have to change in order to be forgiving in this situation:

  • Listening with understanding.
  • Not getting defensive.

If you find it difficult to identify behaviors to support your intentions, think of what you are not doing when you are not supporting your intentions.

Example:  When I am not being forgiving….

  • I don’t care what the other person has to say.
  • I interrupt when he or she speaks.
  • I use a terse tone of voice.

Get a mentor.

Pick a trusted friend, colleague or coach to give you feedback about how well you are doing in changing behavior.  Have them observe you in the situation and give feedback in the moment or shortly afterward.

Your Assignment

In my Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, I suggested an assignment to help make your intentions a reality:

  • Write your intention statement down in the next 24 hours. “I am willing to practice ___.”
  • Identify the behavior changes you need to make in order to make your intention a reality.
  • Practice the behavior changes and get feedback from a trusted mentor.

To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire episode GOOD INTENTIONS OFTEN PAVE A PATHWAY OF GOLD…TO HELL

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Common Courtesy: Managing Triggers When Society Is Lacking

Interlinking Hands

I was looking forward to this long three-day weekend. Relaxing for me during these extended weekends means completing house projects, cleaning, organizing, and exercising.  The periods of time when I was outside of my home interacting with the public I observed a lack of common courtesy that I found concerning. It is especially worrying because of the frustration that appeared to fester because of that missing element of respect between individuals could very easily have escalated into conflict. I felt annoyed on several occasions throughout the weekend that I was able to recognize before I allowed myself to be triggered.

Merriam-Webster defines common courtesy as, “politeness that people can usually be expected to show.” There were several examples of a lack of common courtesy I observed and experienced over the weekend.

I was in the car driving with a friend when another vehicle pulled out in front of us and cut us off. My friend beeped the horn to signal that the other car almost caused an accident, yet the other driver did not wave apologetically.  My frustrated friend shook her head and said, ” Some people are so rude. I have half a mind to ride their bumper now.”

Bernard and I were at Home Depot picking up supplies for our home project. I observed a person trying to maneuver their cart down an aisle and ran into another customer’s cart sitting off to the side and knocked several items of theirs onto the floor. The person whose items were knocked onto the floor was not standing right there but a little further down the aisle. Rather than picking up the items, the person who hit the cart kept going. When the person returned to their cart, they appeared visibly angry shaking their head and mumbling to themselves.

I am currently training for the Baltimore Half Marathon, a huge running event at the end of October. Over the weekend, when running, I found myself in a game of chicken with a couple walking towards me on a narrow sidewalk. We could have all fit easily if one of them moved to walk behind the other while I passed. Instead, they refused to move, and I ended up running into the busy street next to the sidewalk. The situation angered me as I had found myself in similar incidents often, however, not nearly as dangerous as that one.

Finally, I observed two people getting to the grocery store checkout line at the same time. One person had about ten items while the other had only a few. The two individuals stood there for a moment looking at each other before the person with the fewer items relented. The person with more groceries didn’t acknowledge the other person.  They just walked ahead putting their groceries on the belt. I watched the person with fewer items roll their eyes and visibly bite their bottom lip as if they were forcing themselves to remain quiet.

The definition of common courtesy mentions there is an expectation of politeness, so perhaps, the issue lies with our assumption that courtesy is given but isn’t necessarily guaranteed. The examples provided above may not have caused conflict in those moments, but the potential was there.

What can we do when we feel triggered by other’s lack of common courtesy?

  1. Take a deep breath. Before reacting or engaging, take a deep in through the nose, out through the mouth breath. Just doing that can soothe the mind and the temper.
  2. Be understanding. People are often distracted by whatever is going on in their minds; they may not have noticed that they cut you off, or bumped your cart. Lashing out at someone for a perceived slight that the other person may not be aware of will force them to get defensive and potentially lash out at you.
  3. Manage your expectations. Remember that not everyone is brought up the same way. Recognize that just because you would behave one way doesn’t mean everyone else will behave as you do.
  4. Keep smiling. What I mean is, continue to show other’s courtesy and be respectful. We can show other’s the way by doing it ourselves.

Have a good week,

Abigail R.C. McManus, Guest Blogger

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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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How to Help Others Hear Us in Conflict Conversations

sculpture(silence)

Quick Tips

  1. Avoid rambling.
  2. Use their words.
  3. Ask yourself if what you are going to say will make a positive impact.  

How do we help the other person hear us?

Acknowledge the message.  Let the speaker know that they have been heard – this will pave the way for them to hear you.  Simply restating or clarifying what you have heard acknowledges their message.

Honor their truth.  What the speaker is saying is truth to them.  Avoid challenging their truth.  Understand that while it may not be your reality, it is theirs.   Respect their reality and point of view.

Control your voice.  Pay attention to your voice tone.  Think of a person whose voice irritates you.  How difficult is it to listen to them?

Women often have a high pitched or shrill tone, especially when they are deeply committed to what they are saying. Listen to how you sound.  You may have to work on your voice tone to make it more pleasing to listen to.

Choose your words wisely.  Pay attention to the words you use.

Reflect the speaker’s words.  Using the same vocabulary creates a connection.

Avoid rambling and get to the point so that you don’t lose the person’s attention.

Use silence well.  Often saying nothing communicates more than words.  Silence can encourage the speaker to continue if they are not finished.  It helps you to formulate your response and demonstrates that you are thoughtfully considering what they have said.  Practice waiting 5-10 seconds before responding.

Test before you speak.  Rebecca Shafir, author of “The Zen of Listening,” suggests that you ask yourself the following before you speak:  “Is what I am going to say kind, true, necessary and an improvement upon the silence?”

 

Your Assignment

In my interview with author Rebecca Shafir on The Texas Conflict Coach® podcast, Rebecca suggested an assignment that can improve listening:

  • Practice meditation. Meditation teaches us how to allow silence and how to improve concentration and focus.  If you are not familiar with meditation, you can begin with meditating only 5-10 minutes.

To learn more about this topic, listen to the entire episode Mindful Listening in the Age of Distraction

 

Patricia M Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert

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