Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!
What do you do when somebody bugs you? It’s common enough to feel hurt or put-off by something someone said. It’s far less common to know how to come back from that, in a constructive way. Sorting out difficult issues is one of the most challenging of all communications. Not all of us have the skills to do it, so instead we avoid the other person, or complain about them, or pick a fight with them.
The problem is, this doesn’t reduce tension, if anything, it escalates it. Issues become bigger, resentment grows, people become hurt, disengaged, angry or feel powerless to solve their problems.
A reluctance to deal with conflict constructively is hugely detrimental to business. Good ideas remain unspoken, people create silos, and leaders don’t get the information they need because everyone is afraid to bring up potentially contentious issues.
Mishandling conflict also wreaks havoc on relationships. Have you ever been around someone who was frustrated or angry, but doesn’t want to talk about it? They ooze resentment. If they are loud and ‘complainey’ they aren’t very nice to be near either.
In People Skills, a classic text , Robert Bolton describes twelve common communication barriers. These “roadblocks” include making assumptions about people, diagnosing, judging and labelling, and finding solutions for them. They mostly occur because people underestimate the importance of listening. Bolton explains how acquiring the ability to listen, assert yourself, and work out problems with others by using the correct words, will help you build rapport, maintain self-esteem and be able to repair relationships.
One of Bolton’s most important messages is that to defuse a tense situation, both sides need to have have been heard. If you imagine two people each have a bucket and one empties theirs over the other, the person whose bucket is empty feels great, but it’s pretty awful for the person who’s covered in muck.
If you handle a confrontation well, no-one should be covered in muck. You can only sort out a misunderstanding or resolve a disagreement if you’re both willing to hear what the other person has to say.
So here’s how to make it work:
1. LISTEN. There is often a dislocation between what you said and what they heard. Set aside your assumptions. Hear the other person out and let them know you’ve done so, before you step in with questions or start defending yourself. Listen for more than facts. Try to determine what the other person is feeling by paying attention to his/her non-verbal messages. Check it out with the other person: “What is really going on here?” “You sound angry. Is it because of something I said?” Repeat back to the person what you think he/she said. Verifying what you meant will prevent misunderstandings and will ensure that you are both clear about the issues.
2. COMMUNICATE assertively. This means stating your wants and needs in a respectful and honest manner, while recognizing that the other person also has legitimate wants and needs too. Use “I” messages, assuming responsibility for how you feel, not blaming or accusing. It is never alright to say “you always do …” or “you make me feel …”, not if you genuinely want to sort the disagreement out.
3. TOLERANCE and respect. Try to wear the other person’s shoes. Consider his/her viewpoint. Ask yourself: “What does she want?” “What might he be afraid of?” Adopt the position that people aren’t purposefully trying to be mean, hurtful, difficult, etc. Their behavior reflects their way of protecting themselves from getting hurt, feeling anxious, etc. They may not know how to communicate effectively to resolve conflict.
4. FOCUS on the issue. Describe specific behaviour that is creating problems. Do it impartially, don’t label, judge or evaluate people, and don’t focus on personality characteristics or bring in unrelated matters that will increase the conflict. If you find things getting worse, agree to come back and discuss the problem at a later time – when you both have had a chance to calm down and get focused.
5. EXPECT THE POSITIVE. An attitude of “He’s so unreasonable. We won’t be able to settle anything.” is self-fulfilling. Thinking in this way will almost guarantee that you act and communicate in a way that the conflict won’t be resolved satisfactorily. Instead, tell yourself “We can work this out. We are both rational, mature people.” “She’s not trying to make my life difficult. We can work this out if we really listen to each other.”
Thats a lot to take on board, but the book itself gives you detailed scripts and cues you can use.
How to start? I suggest you “Ban the BUT”. Try getting through a whole day at work saying ‘AND’ instead. “I appreciate what you’re saying and ….. ” or “I understand what you’re saying and ….. or “That’s a good point and …..” Rather than negating what the other person said (as the word “but” does), by using the “and” you link to what they have said in order to express your point of view. You have to really listen to the other person before you can make your point. It’s an effective way to express an opinion without creating resistance or conflict. Try it, it works.
By being more aware of the words that you use, you can build rapport with the other person, acknowledging their point of view and creating an environment of mutual respect.
Much of the above is adapted from this pamphlet:Resolving Conflict.