Conflict Solved: Doc Peg is IN
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Effective communication works the same as effective breathing. You need to inhale and exhale. You need to receive and send messages. The metaphor operates like this:
- an inhale means you are gathering in your thoughts and quietly listening to what others are saying (introspection).
- an exhale happens when you assert your needs or a point of view (you talk).
When applied to a conflict, effective communication requires less talking and more introspection. Forget cultural, and especially debate or pundit role models. Effective conflict solvers start by inhaling and progress slowly to the exhale. Curious?
When fights loom on your horizon, I recommend the following communication sequence:
- focus your energy inward by starting with some deep breathing.
- inhale to feed oxygen to the brain.
- inhale to slow down a fight or fight response (pun intended). Inhaling gives you time to choose strategically what you want to say, and it is harder to blurt out something damaging when you are breathing in.
- inhale to create “blank” spaces in your mind. Those blank spaces allow you to hear what others are saying with less distortion. You're goal is to test dead-end assumptions like “I know what the other person is saying.”
I struggle to create “blank spaces” because my mind is cluttered with “to do” lists and contemplating many conversations at once. Is this difficult for you? It's OK if it is. Just cultivate inhaling as you would any new skill.
- five more tips:
(a) silence is golden. Most people feel uncomfortable with silence during a conversation. So, if you talk less the other person will talk more. Just wear a pleasant look, and information will flow.
(b) little prompts (little head nods, an “uh huh” or a “like…?” every now and then, etc.) create safe spaces for people to talk into, then use
(c) next use more direct, but also gentle prompts like: “tell me more” or “how does that work?” next
(d) ask the speaker for examples of what they mean. then
(e) summarize to test that you understand what you have heard. I tell people I'm summarizing and ask for corrections. If they feel safe, they will either affirm or correct. Either way you are on solid footing.
This whole sequence offers little structure at first, little to resist or rebut, and then moves to more structure. I'm strategically inviting others to write on the “blank slate” in my mind.
Finally, gather information from a perspective of genuine curiosity. People sense “got ya” questions and rightfully clam up. They also hear sincere curiosity and tell you more knowing they are safe.
Genuine curiosity blended with the listening sequence reduces game playing. Your opponent girds less for combat and is more open minded when hearing your needs in the next phase of the inhale/exhale cycle.
Constant noise obscures the meaning of messages whether we send or receive them. I often marvel we communicate at all. What if you have a migraine headache, work deadlines, or you just flat out dislike the person talking? Do you really think you are hearing and accurately interpreting what the other person says, really? Do you think the other person hears you? Really? Our brains filter and interpret what we hear according to:
- your age, their age;
- your gender, their gender;
- previous conversations or you are talking to a stranger;
- time of day and energy level; and
- external noise or multi-tasking distractions.
My blog describes useful tools for testing what you hear and see as verbal and nonverbal body language. Consider signing up for the DocPegisIN Blog
The exhale portion of the cycle is about saying what is on your mind in ways others hear and interpret closer to your intent. The exhale portion of communication builds on the work you've accomplished by inhaling. With that preparation, what you say is more likely to:
- establish boundaries when you are being bullied psychologically, verbally or physically.
- assert the changes you desire while inviting others to come with you on a journey of change. and
- express appreciation effectively.
Speaking out, whether asserting a need or saying thanks, is tricky. Speaking discloses feelings and personal priorities. If, in the second you are about to talk, you feel uncomfortable, be assured that your preparation, reflection and deeper awareness give you an edge. You are probably also calmer and more focused than anyone hearing you.
Emotions (like grief, frustration, anger, etc.) also create an energy that propels conflicts toward naming and blaming, both necessary to solutions. Our culture legitimates factual over emotional communication. But during conflict, ignoring or discounting emotions is foolish and counterproductive. Even when solutions address factual content, emotions don't dissipate when ignored, quite the opposite. It is important to acknowledge and express emotions even in early stage conflict.
Emotional expressions disclose both motivation and your interpretation of facts. Good conflict solutions address both content and emotions.
“Sticks and stones my break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
An interesting convergence of neuroscience and communication research dispels the myth.
- we rely on stories to communicate who we are and what we want.
- stories, even just a few words, impact our actions, because we react to what we hear and read.
- marketing and campaign consultant use this power to shape sales or voting patterns.
- bottom line, words shape your world and force you to act.
Note the following highlighted words. How you might react to each? Do you sense the “speaker's” intention to change your behavior?
- from a book on social media: social media is not a sandbox. It is a business.
- a book title: “All Marketers
- from the 2012 presidential campaign: The Affordable Care Act taxes or penalizes?
- “I'm not married.” (a pick-up line, after he takes his ring off).
You are normal if each word or phrase conjures the potential for different actions. You took the time to listen to yourself and others involved in a conflict. You have good information on how to shape your narrative. Take a few minutes more to view this award winning film, Historia de un Letrero (Story of a Sign). It highlights the power of words in any context. View this video
And now an old skill that thrives on our new understanding of the power of narrative. Read on…
Some of you already know about “I” statements, so here is a little reframe. This might be a new skill for some readers.
When asking for change your narrative will begin with either “you” or “I.” Compare these examples of narratives and consider which increase defensiveness or decrease resistance to change.
- “You made me late.” vs.
- “I don't think I would have been late if I hadn't picked up these clothes.”
- “Your payment method is confusing.” vs.
- “I'm confused by this payment method.”
- “You chauvinist.” vs.
- “I'm uncomfortable when people open doors for me. Please let me open them for myself.”
“I” statements encourage change more effectively than “you” statements. People experience the word “you” as an attack, so they mentally pull up the drawbridge and prepare for battle. An “I” statement discloses your feelings, and appeals to our “the better angels.” Rather than recoiling, your listener may even try to help you out of a jam.
Other benefits of “I” statements. They:
- specify changes making compliance easier.
- encourage independent action and higher self esteem prompting an “I can do this” attitude.
Skillful “I” statements can be simple, like the ones above or three-part statements that are even more effective. Compare:
“That SOB just doesn't like me. Every time I try to explain why I'm late, or that I didn't understand the question or something like that he thinks I'm lying or it is an excuse. He's totally unfair. I can't win, no matter what.”
“I'm angry because he shakes his fist and yells at me in front of other people in the office. Let me answer questions and explain why I'm late in private. I want to be a good employee and figure this out.”
Which assertion is likely to encourage a private conversation, support appropriate disciplinary action, save this person's job and improve office morale?
The general form of an “I” statement is as follows:
I feel (insert your feeling) ….
When you (insert a description of a specific irritating action) ….
I ask you to or please (insert a specific change you want made) …”
“I” messages have become a discipline for me (although sometimes I skip the inhale portion of the cycle and pop off, yielding predictable, negative outcomes). When I hear someone use an “I” statement, I know the speaker has done their homework, and I admire their effort. They've inhaled, reflected on what they are feeling, and are coming from a more centered place.
Peggy maintains a private practice in Athens, GA, serving north Georgia, while also traveling across North America and internationally to help clients, conduct training and for speaking engagements. North American and international coaching clients have access by phone or Skype. Peggy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, by phone (706.207.1490), or use the “contact” form to make an appointment for an initial chat. Half hour initial inquiries are free (a $75 value). Thanks for coming to “ Conflict Solved: Doc Peg is IN.” Follow me on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIN for daily reflections and hip-pocket tips.