This is part one of a two-part post:
It's relatively easy to say that you are an effective communicator when you are with friends, or when sailing on relationship water that's smooth as glass. One of the true tests of communication skill, though, is when you have to navigate the choppy seas of disagreement and conflict. When you're engaged head to head and you want to find a productive course through it, here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Is it important that we agree? Many times the answer to this question is no. Yet we still allow ourselves to get all riled up, as though this were the game of the week and the winner gets a cut of the TV profits. When we get too ramped up about a particular perspective we place it higher in priority than our relationship with the person with whom we are communicating. And when we're firmly seated in our own "rightness" we are in parent ego state - not a mode that's likely to help the other people feel open to our input. It makes us less persuasive, not more.
- What is the most important outcome of this conflict? Sometimes it's most important that a decision be made so that it can be acted upon. In other situations our priority is to maintain or repair the relationship with the other person. If the relationship is in the forefront for us we might choose to downplay or avoid the conflict-ridden subject, or detach ourselves from a specific outcome. If, however, we want our perspective to prevail, we might use various techniques to compete for the "win."
- Does one opinion have to prevail, or can there be a blended solution? Not every conflict is required to result in "I win, you lose"or vice versa. Collaboration at its best includes the mental work of all participants. There is rarely only one right answer to a situation or a problem - despite the fact that one of the answers is yours.
- Is it really about this conflict? This is a common situation in longstanding relationships - this disagreement contains a meta-message behind the actual content of the conflict. It represents, for example, autonomy or power - either yours or the other party's. Or you might be angry about some other issue that you haven't brought to the foreground, and this conflict is the opportunity to express your anger - it's a designated issue. If this conflict is a designated issue you won't truly feel better until you deal with the other, root issue. If you choose not to deal with the root issue, be prepared for replays of the conflict.
Part two of this post will contain tips for communicating effectively in conflict situations.