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Monday, April 28, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #8

      When I've had to train in difficult environments, I've heard participants denigrate their superiors and the culture of the organization.  There's usually a lot of animosity that's piled up over the course of years, and employees don't mind expressing their dissent.  In fact, dissent and disparagement are the course of conversation for the day--until I have to shut it down.  I've found that some people just like to complain.  They stay in problem mode.  They say things like, "That'll never work.  They don't listen to us.  They don't do what we ask.  We don't trust anything they say."  And on and on it goes.  They contribute only to the negative aspects of the feedback and rarely to anything that yields solutions.  If solutions are proposed, they dismiss them with more derogatory talk.  I've come to learn over the years in dealing with conflict that disagreements devolve into endless bickering because one or both parties do not know how to keep the conversation above board.  In order to move past the problems, a change in the pattern of conversation has to occur.
     Therefore, Rule #8 is to keep comments positive by resisting the urge to indulge in the negative.  It is easy to get caught up in your own needs and point of view when opposing the other side.  But if we don't look for ways to ultimately resolve our differences, the conflict goes round and round, never ending, and the problem stays alive.  There are no ways to kill it because a lack of solutions is like providing oxygen to a fire.  To douse that roaring flame, somebody has to pour positive power on the naysayer's putdowns.
     Think about how disarming it would be to trade a rebuttal for a possibility.  It could sound like: 

Party 1:  "We're just wasting our time completing this survey.  They don't really care about what we think." 
Party 2:  "I realize nothing's improved in the past when you've been surveyed, but maybe this is the time when you'll finally be heard." 
Party 1:  "Why would this time be any different?  They keep asking our opinion and nothing happens.  Nothing changes."
Party 2:  "But if you stop bringing up what needs to change, then it certainly won't.  Your voice makes the difference."
Party 1:  "My voice is just dust in the wind.  You need to see the handwriting on the wall."
Party 2:  "I do, and it reads:  Help is on the way."
Party 1:  "Keep dreaming."
Party 2:  "I do, and that's why I have hope.  You've obviously stopped dreaming because you paint this situation as hopeless.  Is it?  Are you?"
Party 1:  "Certainly not!  I never lose hope."
Party 2:  "Then start speaking like you still have it."
Party 1:  "Okay.  I hope they'll finally respond with action after this survey."
Party 2:  "Now, that's more like it."

     It is hard for a person to stay negative when each negative comment is countered by a positive one.  It requires more than one comeback comment, but every time you share possibilities and hope, you defeat the argument and not the party who's posing it.  Try it.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #7


     "You're always late."
     "You never have anything nice to say about anybody."
     "Are you ever organized?"
     These statements are absolutes.  Statements like these ought to ALWAYS be avoided in conflict situations.  The previous statement was one of the few appropriate times you could use words like "always" and "never".  The appropriate times are very few.  Therefore, they should be avoided as often as possible.  Here's why:  most of us are rarely always doing anything or never doing something.  To make such a claim is likely false, and people hate to be lied to or lied on.  To make a blanket statement about someone's behavior--especially if that statement is largely negative--is to create conflict or add to it.  Think about it:  you rarely do anything all the time.  There are few things we never do, but they aren't usually perceived as a criticism.  For instance:  "I never rob old people."  That's obviously a plus so it's okay to make that absolute statement (if it's true).  However, if an absolute statement is laced with criticism like "You never help me with the housework!" then you're likely to get some push back if that statement isn't entirely true and is accusing.
     When engaged in a disagreement, stay away from making absolute statements or using words that rob a person of their contributions--no matter how minimal--to a particular situation.  The other person may not help with housework as much as you'd like, but they do offer some help on occasion.  An individual might live and work in clutter the bulk of the time, but there are a few times when you've seen their environment in order.  Moreover, these types of words also have an accusing quality.  It's a judgment upon on another person, and you've just opened the door to get something you've done thrown right back in your face.  Then the tit-for-tat happens, and the conversation devolves into an ugly confrontation.
     Changing the way you approach a person's lack in life should grab positive attention from them so that you can encourage them to listen to you better.  For example, rather than accuse your coworker of "never picking up the slack on the team", you can say:  "I appreciate it when you help out.  I'd like to see you do more of that.  It helps us get more done faster.  We need you, and you do a great job."  We must practice caution and care when engaging in conflict with others.  Using a simple rule like this one can help.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #6

     In the last post, I mentioned watching your tone.  I'd like to expound upon that recommendation a bit because it's one of the biggest complaints I get from people regarding communications problems.  Therefore, let's establish the next rule:  the sixth rule of engagement in conflict is to consider the tone you set when engaging in discussion.  Conflict arises from people feeling offended by the way they are handled by other people.  The leap from being direct and being perceived as rude is not a large one.  A short, gruff response to a simple question could set off a nasty exchange if one person finds the tone offensive.  Oftentimes, direct people don't realize right away how they sound to others.  Sure, they know they're direct because they've been told so by people they've offended somewhere along the way.  But they don't realize when they've crossed the line until they're already over it.  Here's something important to remember regarding the "sound" of our conversations:  Communication is two-toned.  One tone is the tone of voice.  The other is the tone of conversation. Let's look at them separately.

     First, the tone of voice.  There is a portion of the world's population whose voices are loud, sharp and harsh.  When they speak, they often sound angry.  They sound like they're right on the edge, and they're ready to take their frustration out on anybody who so much as utters a greeting.  They usually speak with no filters so what comes to mind is blurted out of their mouths without much forethought.  As a result, they unintentionally (and sometimes intentionally) say things that ignite an equally harsh response.  I've found that these folks ultimately live their lives in turmoil.  They get into far more arguments than they want, and they get real good at confrontation because they haven't learned how not to spark them.  Additionally, they have the look that matches the tone--mean, unfriendly, scowling.  They are able to attract people, but keeping friends is difficult.  Only those who can see the better side of them and not take their tone too personal are able to tolerate them.  There are varying degrees of this group.  Some people  in this subset may not scowl or growl when they talk at you, but they often appear standoffish and unfriendly in their look and sound.  They are the ones I hear described as "lacking people skills".
     The other tone is the tone of the conversation.  This is the path on which the speaker sets the discussion.  If the path is friendly because the exchange involves word choices that are encouraging and motivating, then the tone has been set.  If it is easy flowing like a breeze on a summer day, then an easy conversation takes place.  If it is hostile and argumentative, then an angry debate most likely happens.  The tone of the conversation is more than just how a person sounds when they talk, but it is also about what they say.  It is the conversation that is shaped.  It is what is fed into it, and what is extracted from it.  It is where it is led.  The tone is set by the speakers.  Knowing how you come across to others in a conversation is important and too often taken for granted.  Therefore, set a tone you can live with, and that others can too.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Rules of Engagement in Conflict--Rule #5

     Either you've seen it for yourself or someone has told you about it, but most likely you know about the yelling and screaming that occurs on most of these "reality" shows that have flooded the airways.  These shout-a-thons usually occur between women who are supposed to be friends or at the very least associates.  They lack respect for one another and generally for themselves.  They curse, they accuse, they yell!  That yelling can oftentimes lead to physical altercations.  Which brings me to Rule #5 in the Rules of Engagement in Conflict:  Watch your tone.  No YELLING!!!
     Regardless of the relationship, more gets done when people remain civil to one another.  When the tone is harsh and abusive, communications break down.  No one wants to be disrespected and denigrated.  The words are important, but just as important is the tone of those words.  If you are raising the volume during the most tense times of discussion, you've moved out of productive, constructive conversation into destructive, disparaging discourse.  If you've witnessed an argument that devolved into a shouting match, you'll notice one key element that made it useless:  yelling.  The reason yelling basically kills a rational conversation is because most likely both sides are yelling at the same time.  If each side is yelling, then no one's listening.  If no one's listening, then very little is understood.  If there is no understanding, then the conversation is meaningless.
     Yelling means you've lost control--control of your emotions, and thus, the conversation.  Disagreements are going to generate emotions.  That's a given, and I'm not suggesting you try not to feel.  However, when those feelings escalate beyond reason, then you are in danger of losing more than just your cool.  You may lose your self-respect, your relationship with the other person if there was one prior to the disagreement, your job, your marriage, your confidence in that person, and so much more.  You will ultimately lose the argument in one way or the other.  There is no winning when the exchange is toxic.
     Therefore, practice self control.  Refrain from yelling as much as you can.  Abide by this rule to preserve your peace of mind and your well-being.  Talking louder doesn't mean you'll be heard better.  After all, neither of you is arguing because you didn't hear the other side.  In fact, you heard exactly what was said initially, and that's what ticked you off.  You're yelling to get your point across, and that can be accomplished better with a cool head and a sensitive heart.  Yelling causes us to stop listening intently and to react to only a few words we hear between the shouting.  Just like yelling evokes yelling from the other side, a calm approach to a disagreement can quiet the rage in the other person.  What you say loudly can also be said just as well softly.  Maybe even better.
     Tone has everything to do with the volume of your voice, but also with the tenor of your conversation.  You can still be offensive without shouting.  If you're sniping, short, rude or sarcastic, your tone is condescending and/or confrontational.  Check yourself on all these fronts.  Be honest about it, and make a change.