Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Avoiding Conflicts

Recently we had a communication skills training where our trainer described the many stages between when someone says or does something until the point when we react. First we hear or see the action of the other person, then we interpret it taking into account our own world view, we judge what that means to us, this judgement may cause an emotion and then we react. Usually all this happens within seconds. But what we must realise is that only the hearing or seeing of the action is objective, the rest is subjective according to our own values, culture, experiences and many other factors including our mood. So the interpretation and judgement are the first steps towards a long drawn misunderstanding. This is especially true working in a multicultural environment as cultural norms tend to differ widely. What one person may think as being straight forward another would view as rude! What one person sees as politeness is what another would consider ‘beating around the bush’.

When this process evokes a strong emotional response, we may react without thinking and start a conflict. One of the main messages of the training was to try to control that emotion and take time to process and understand the other person before reacting. It is important not to project our own thoughts and feelings, but to ask the other person what they meant and to listen with an open mind... A method of engaging in difficult conversations that was discussed was to initially only state the facts; such as “I saw…” or “I heard you say…” Then to say what you felt when you heard or saw it, as no one can say that you can’t feel that way, and you are not making the other person the bad guy. Then to finally ask the person what they think about it, giving them the benefit of the doubt and the space to explain.

I have heard about the importance of using ‘I’ statements in conflicts before, but usually in the heat of the moment I always forget them, especially when I get emotional and sometimes it's even felt physically! The suggestion by the trainer was simply to take a break at the point when you start feeling emotional, not to say anything at all. In the end it’s all about seeing things from the other person’s point of view and trying to understand them.



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