Lets face it few of us inherently have great communication skills, yet poor communication is often found to be at the root of so many problems people find themselves dealing with, the Good News is, that improved communication skills can be learnt and with a little practice can have a profound effect on all areas of a persons life!
Conflict, like change, is an inevitable part of human existence and this is one area that many of us struggle with when it comes to finding a positive way to manage conflict whether it involves our relationships or our workplace.
Listed below are some points to consider when trying to manage conflict:
- Stay Focused: Sometimes it’s tempting to bring up past seemingly related conflicts when dealing with current ones. Unfortunately, this often clouds the issue and makes finding mutual understanding and a solution to the current issue less likely, and makes the whole discussion more taxing and even confusing. Try not to bring up past hurts or other topics. Stay focused on the present, your feelings, understanding one another and finding a solution.
- Listen Carefully: People often think they’re listening, but are really thinking about what they’re going to say next when the other person stops talking. Truly effective communication goes both ways. While it might be difficult, try really listening to what your partner is saying. Don’t interrupt. Don’t get defensive. Just hear them and reflect back what they’re saying so they know you’ve heard. Then you’ll understand them better and they’ll be more willing to listen to you.
- Try To See Their Point of View: In a conflict, most of us primarily want to feel heard and understood. We talk a lot about our point of view to get the other person to see things our way. Ironically, if we all do this all the time, there’s little focus on the other person’s point of view, and nobody feels understood. Try to really see the other side, and then you can better explain yours. (If you don’t ‘get it’, ask more questions until you do.) Others will more likely be willing to listen if they feel heard.
- Respond to Criticism with Empathy: When someone comes at you with criticism, it’s easy to feel that they’re wrong, and get defensive. While criticism is hard to hear, and often exaggerated or colored by the other person’s emotions, it’s important to listen for the other person’s pain and respond with empathy for their feelings. Also, look for what’s true in what they’re saying; that can be valuable information for you.
- Own What’s Yours: Realize that personal responsibility is strength, not a weakness. Effective communication involves admitting when you’re wrong. If you share some responsibility in a conflict (which is usually the case), look for and admit to what’s yours. It diffuses the situation, sets a good example, and shows maturity. It also often inspires the other person to respond in kind, leading you both closer to mutual understanding and a solution.
- Use “I” Messages: Rather than saying things like, “You really messed up here,” begin statements with “I”, and make them about yourself and your feelings, like, “I feel frustrated when this happens.” It’s less accusatory, sparks less defensiveness, and helps the other person understand your point of view rather than feeling attacked.
- Look for Compromise Instead of trying to ‘win’ the argument, look for solutions that meet everybody’s needs. Either through compromise or a new solution that gives you both what you want most, this focus is much more effective than one person getting what they want at the other’s expense. Healthy communication involves finding a resolution that both sides can be happy with.
- Take a Time-Out: Sometimes tempers get heated and it’s just too difficult to continue a discussion without it becoming an argument or a fight. If you feel yourself or your partner starting to get too angry to be constructive or showing some destructive communication patterns, its okay to take a break from the discussion until you both cool off. Sometimes good communication means knowing when to take a break.
- Don’t Give Up: While taking a break from the discussion is sometimes a good idea, always come back to it. If you both approach the situation with a constructive attitude, mutual respect, and a willingness to see the other’s point of view or at least find a solution, you can make progress toward the goal of a resolution to the conflict. Unless it’s time to give up on the relationship, don’t give up on communication.
- Ask For Help If You Need It: If one or both of you has trouble staying respectful during conflict, or if you’ve tried resolving conflict with your partner on your own and the situation just doesn’t seem to be improving, you might benefit from a few sessions with a therapist. Couples counseling or family therapy can provide help with altercations and teach skills to resolve future conflict. If your partner doesn’t want to go, you can still often benefit from going alone.
The goal of effective communication skills should be mutual understanding and finding a solution that pleases both parties, not ‘winning’ the argument or ‘being right’.
Remember the importance of maintaining mutual respect, even if you don’t approve of the other persons actions.
Just to balance things up, here are some negative, even destructive attitudes and patterns of communication; in practice, these attitudes and patterns can create mistrust and weaken bonds.
1. Avoiding Conflict Altogether:
Rather than discussing building frustrations in a calm, respectful manner, some people just don’t say anything to their partner until they’re ready to explode, and then blurt it out in an angry, hurtful way. This seems to be the less stressful route—avoiding an argument altogether—but usually causes more stress to both parties, as tensions rise, resentments fester, and a much bigger argument eventually results. It’s much healthier to address and resolve conflict before it has a chance to grow into something bigger.
Rather than addressing a partner’s complaints with an objective eye and willingness to understand the other person’s point of view, defensive people steadfastly deny any wrongdoing, working hard to avoid looking at the possibility that they could be contributing to a problem. Denying responsibility may seem to alleviate stress in the short run, but creates long-term problems when partners don’t feel listened to and unresolved conflicts continue to grow.
Blowing something out of proportion by making sweeping generalizations. Avoid starting sentences with, “You always…” and “You never…”, as in, “You always come home late!” or “You never do what I want to do!” Stop and think about whether or not this is really true. Don’t bring up past conflicts to throw the discussion off-topic and stir up more negativity. This stands in the way of true conflict resolution, and can increase the level of conflict.
4. Being Right:
It’s damaging to decide that there’s a ‘right’ way to look at things and a ‘wrong’ way to look at things, and that your way of seeing things is right. Don’t demand that your partner see things the same way, and don’t take it as a personal attack if they have a different opinion. Look for a compromise or agreeing to disagree, and remember that there are countless ways of seeing and doing things’ and that two points of view can both be valid.
5. “Psychoanalyzing” / Mind-Reading:
Instead of asking about their partner’s thoughts and feelings, partners sometimes decide that they ‘know’ what their partners are thinking and feeling based only on faulty interpretations of their actions—and always assume it’s negative! (For example, deciding a late mate doesn’t care enough to be on time, or that a tired partner is denying sex out of passive-aggressiveness.) This can create hostility and misunderstanding.
6. Forgetting to Listen:
Some people interrupt, roll their eyes, and rehearse what they’re going to say next instead of truly listening and attempting to understand their partner. This keeps you from seeing their point of view, and keeps your partner from wanting to see yours! Don’t underestimate the importance of listening and empathizing with the other person!
7. Playing the Blame Game:
Many handle conflict by criticizing and blaming the other person for the situation. They see admitting any weakness on their own part as a weakening of their credibility, and avoid it at all costs, and even try to shame them for being ‘at fault’. How about trying to view conflict as an opportunity to analyze the situation objectively, assess the needs of both parties and come up with a solution that helps you both.
8. Trying to ‘Win’ The Argument:
Dr. Phil says that if people are focused on ‘winning’ the argument, “the relationship loses”! The point of a relationship discussion should be mutual understanding and coming to an agreement or resolution that respects everyone’s needs. If you’re making a case for how wrong the other person is, discounting their feelings, and staying stuck in your point of view, you’re focused in the wrong direction!
9. Making Character Attacks:
Sometimes people take any negative action from a partner and blow it up into a personality flaw. (For example, if a husband leaves his socks lying around, you look at it as a character flaw and label him ‘inconsiderate and lazy’, or, if a woman wants to discuss a problem with the relationship, labeling her ‘needy’, ‘controlling’ or ‘too demanding’.) This creates negative perceptions on both sides. Remember – mutual respect, even if you don’t like the behavior.
When one partner wants to discuss issues in the relationship, some people defensively stonewall, or refuse to talk or listen to their partner. This can show disrespect, even contempt, while at the same time it allows the underlying conflict to grow. Stonewalling achieves nothing; however it can create hard feelings and damage a relationships.
(Scott, E. ABOUT.com). 2010