Conflict Resolution: How do we become more effective communicators?

 “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”

– Dr. Stephen Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People

Different Views

Three people could be standing on the same exact side of the street, in the same exact spot, witnessing the same exact accident, and yet they could still each have a completely different story. Stories are found based on personal impact and life experiences in the world. Everyone is rightfully entitled to their own unique opinion. Differences don’t magically disappear and neither will disagreements. Different stories, observations, conclusions and perceptions of the world are all found at the roots of each argument.

Effective communication is very valuable in creating a successful business or project. In fact, it is the only way groups can function smoothly. Effective communication allows for a diverse group of people to understand issues and make decisions for effective change. Communicating effectively helps people gain trust and respect for each other while accomplishing goals. Workers surrounded by an environment filled with effective communication tend to feel and act much happier, which in turn leads to success.

What happens when effective communication is absent in a working environment? There are multiple issues in the working environment that damage effective communication between groups of people due to a lack of understanding. Gender biases, leadership roles, generation gaps and expectations all branch off into different issues that are usually left unspoken until an argument begins. Challenging topics and difficult conversations arise at the peak of each disagreement; and, during those times the solution seems far out of sight.

Different Thought Processes

There is a feeling and a particular thought process that everyone reaches at one point or another during an argument. No matter the topic or purpose, everyone hits a point while arguing that makes them feel frustrated, unheard, unappreciated and powerless.

We tend to make assumptions during an argument, and we usually target our thoughts more toward the way the person is. For example, our thought process might begin to look like this:

“They simply don’t get it”

“They will never understand”

“That is just the way that person is”  

A lack of understanding in the workplace could be fueled by many different things. Arguments almost always stem from persistence and stubbornness. Most times we never see ourselves as the real problem to blame, and that is perfectly fine because we shouldn’t. Inside our minds we don’t notice the way our story is actually different in comparison to the view on the other end. In fact, we are not trained to think in that way.

Authors Stone, Patton and Henn of the book “Difficult Conversations” How to Discuss What Matters Most; explains the importance of understanding both sides of an argument in order to move forward.

We are all human, and we have to understand both sides by combining stories. Investing the time to understand the other party is much more valuable than arguing. It may feel less important at the time; however, it is critical in finding common ground with others.

Different Styles of Communication

The University of Maine performed a study on effective communication and how to help yourself become more understanding by active listening. In their study, they concluded with five simple steps.

  1. Acknowledge the thoughts, ideas or feelings of the other party – showing your willingness to listen and understand tells the other person that you are ready to tackle a challenging topic in a respectful way.
  2. Say it in different words—paraphrasing their statements in your own words without adding any additional comments, helps lead you to understanding more about the other view while staying honest to yourself.
  3. Ask an open-ended question – when it becomes difficult to understand a different perspective, become more confident in asking questions that helps others explain their view. Instead of simply nodding your head in confusion, ask them to explain.
  4. Summarize and clarify – after listening to the other viewpoint, gather the information you have soaked in and summarize it on a level of your own personal understanding then ask for clarification.
  5. Give an opinion – once you have actively listened, ask if the other person is willing to hear your perspective and speak accordingly. Give examples of your point of view and decide for your own whether or not you are able to combine perspectives.

Before we can move forward, we must first understand where we are personally. If you never acknowledge the idea of a different perspective you won’t be able to understand or change a difficult situation!

Contributed by: Kelbi Ervin, IWL Intern, UIndy 15’