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When the Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree- Tips and Strategies on How to Change your Default Settings

brainearserPrior to becoming privy to the constructive ways to approach, manage and resolve conflict, I handled disputes in the same manner of my parents. My parents always confronted conflict and to get their points across to one another they would yell. When I was younger, I promised myself that I would handle conflicts differently when I was in a relationship. However, when my fiancé and I got into our very first fight, what did I do? I confronted him, and I yelled. My fiancé did not know how to handle this situation and recoiled because he grew up in a different setting, where his parents did not confront their conflict head on and never yelled at one another.

I observed something about how we tackled conflicts from this situation; everyone has, what I like to call a default setting. A person’s default setting is how you instinctively respond to the conflict that typically mirrors your parents or the environment where you were raised. Anyone can change his or her settings with hard work though it may be difficult at first. Once I started in the Negotiations and Conflict Management program at the University of Baltimore, I began to incorporate the tools and skills I learned in class and applied them to my life.

What can you do to change your default setting?

  • Acknowledge that you have a default setting and be honest with yourself about your conflict management shortcomings. We like to deny certain truths and put the blame on others regarding our inadequacies. When I would shout at my fiancé, saying it was his fault I was yelling. If I were honest with myself, I would have recognized that I resembled my parent’s way of handling conflict. I chose to yell because that was the only way I thought he would hear me.
  • Clear up misunderstandings by checking assumptions. We all see, hear, and interpret the world differently. We make assumptions about what is or isn’t being said and rarely ask for clarification. My parents could have easily resolved many of their arguments if they had asked for clarification and not assumed. Similarly, in my relationship, we would jump to conclusions or make assumptions about what the other person was saying or thinking which caused most of our disputes. Now, before I get upset I will say, “When you said you would take out the trash in a little bit, what did you mean by a little bit?”
  • Reframe and state your emotions. Emotions are what cause conflicts to escalate. My parent’s arguments were highly emotional because both of them would be angry, annoyed, hurt, etc. My fiancé and I’s arguments were always emotional because I can be overly sensitive. I would yell because I was mad, or cry because I was frustrated. In the book Difficult Conversations, by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Sheila Heen, I learned “I feel” statements. Using these statements helps you to acknowledge and take ownership of the emotion rather than placing the blame on the other person. Now I say, “ I feel frustrated that the trash hasn’t been taken out” rather than yelling, “You said you would take the trash out over an hour ago.”
  • Don’t automatically get defensive. Many times, we anticipate a fight, so we begin to put the boxing gloves on before we have the conversation. My dad dawdles when he knows my mom is mad, and he has to go home to face her. Anytime my fiancé and I were going to have a serious discussion; I would anticipate what he would say and plan my comebacks. Now, I go into every situation where a conflict could occur, reminding myself that we are teammates, not opponents.

While I do not believe our default setting entirely goes away, with perseverance we can challenge our default settings and create better and healthier habits to address conflict.

Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management


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Can’t Get Your Aging Parents and Adult Siblings to Listen? Learn How Conflict Coaching Can Help

Carolyn RodisStephenKotev2Learn how conflict coaching can help you change those dynamics to manage conflict and communicate more productively with your aging parents and adult siblings.  You will learn what a conflict coach does, and will take away some tips on how to get unstuck from patterns of communication that aren’t working as you navigate the difficult conversations that come with aging.


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The Dreaded Conversation: How to Confront a Family Member

Family_In_CarSummer is FINALLY here! The kids are out of school. Aren’t you itching to plan a family vacation? This means more bonding time with kids, in-laws, parents, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. (Yay!). Spending numerous hours day-end-and-day out your extended family can be quite overwhelming. I will share a story of a husband and wife vacationing at a beach house with their in-laws, spouse’s siblings, and their children followed by tips on how to confront a family member before the conflict escalates.

The Beach House Drama

Imagine you and your spouse are asked to spend a free week, all expenses paid vacation, at a beach house for a week with your in-laws and spouses siblings, and their kids. Weeks leading up to the vacation the only thing you can think about is catching up on some lost sleep and relaxing on the sand reading a book. The first day was amazing – you woke up at 10AM and lounged at the beach for most of the day. Later that evening, you bonded with the kids and in-laws. At 7AM the following morning, you are woken by your mother-in-law playing a yoga video. Not letting it ruffle your feathers, you get yourself back to sleep. On the third day, the same video wakes you up at 7AM. Fed up, you confide in your spouse about the noise asking, why does she have to do yoga at 7am? Your spouse says deal with it and go back to sleep. Not wanting to ruin the last few days arguing with your spouse or holding a grudge against your mother-in-law, you decide to confront her.

Having the Difficult Conversationfamily drama blog

When confronting a family member it is important to enter the conversation with a clear, open mind and be willing to listen and possibly compromise. In the book, Difficult Conversations the authors attribute delivering a difficult message to “throwing a hand grenade.” No matter how it’s delivered it will cause damage (Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. ,1999). The authors advise us to:

  • Understand what has happened from the other person’s point of view (perhaps the mother-in-law didn’t know she was disturbing the whole house)
  • Explain your point of view (you are on vacation to sleep in and do not want to wake up at 7AM to loud noises)
  • Share your feelings (being woken up out of sleep makes you grouchy all day)
  • Work together to figure out a way to manage the problem going forward (choose a different workout time, turn the TV down, close the bedroom door, do yoga with your mother-in –law)

Being understanding and open will hopefully allow both parties to see each other’s point of view and soften the blow of the grenade. However, you spend your summer do not let family conflict get in the way of a great time! Be open to having that difficult conversation.

By Yvette Watson Jenkins

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore – Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Don’t Let Misunderstandings Leave You Misunderstood! Tips for Delivering Messages

imagesMisunderstandings –don’t you just despise them! They ruin many conversations from the personal to the professional. Your delivery of a message (s) can often times be perceived differently than what you intended. For example, an employee might over hear a supervisor say “I GOT HIM!” The employee understands the message as something negative. The supervisor’s intention however, is “I finally understand him.” Many times messages are perceived as negative when considering how it is delivered, and this can create a great deal of conflict. This mostly happens when your boss or your team leader has to deliver an unpleasant message in the midst of an existing dispute. Delivering a hard message can be harmful if it is not presented in an effective and constructive way.

According to author Heidi Burgess, all communications have two valuable roles, the sender and receiver. The sender is the person who delivers the message and the receiver is the one who accepts and interprets the message. The interpretation is when your conflict will most likely occur. However, interpretation is not solely dependent upon the receiver. The sender can frequently provide you with reasons to believe that the message has an undesirable intent. His/her posture, tone, level of empathy or the type of space chosen to deliver an unpleasant message could be the reason why you interpret it as rude, impolite or offensive. If your boss or team leader is delivering a difficult message to you, the characteristics aforementioned should be considered and valued.

Picture this! You’re a team leader/manager and your boss just gave you bad news. The news basically states that if the customer service numbers don’t improve substantially, company layoffs will occur. You now have to deliver this tough message in the clearest and most understandable way for your co-workers and team. If the message is delivered as a threat, ultimatum or blame, any person in your department could take this as a personal attack. Maybe this past month his/her numbers were low. It’s challenging…right? Exactly!

Here are few tips to lessen misunderstanding (Adapted from Beyond Intractability)

  •  Actively Listen. Pay attention to what your co-worker or boss is saying and ask for clarity.
  •  Speak directly to the person who needs to receive the message. Give that person your full attention.
  •  Speak from your perspective. If the message involves addressing your co-worker’s many long breaks, let the co-worker know how that impacts you or your work environment
  • Speak for a purpose. Plan out what you want to say and focus on it. This will keep you from rambling when you deliver the message.

The bottom line is that unresolved misunderstandings in communication creates conflict! Ongoing conflict can create a destructive work environment. To learn more about delivering difficult message visit these links 10 Tips For Delivering Bad News and How To Deliver Difficult Conversations.

 by Tierra Henry, University of Baltimore Graduate Student



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So You Are Going to Mediation – How Do You Prepare?

In an earlier show So You Need to Mediate…HELP…Now What?, we discussed what mediation is, the benefits and values to you as a party in a dispute, the questions to consider when finding a mediator and whether to hire a private mediator or use a community-based mediator. Now that you have decided to go to mediation, what do you need to do to prepare? Why is it important to prepare for these difficult conversations, and what do you need to consider when going into the mediation so that it is the most productive, constructive and has the greatest potential for success for you and the other side.


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