Warning. This is motivated by the political climate currently in our country.
Recently, I was listening to a congressman on one of the television stations that provides "news" 24/7. The interviewer and congressman were clearly not communicating well. Both were speaking from their perspective of the "facts". And their "facts" were in opposition of each other. I was curious about the comments being made by the congressman. While this congressman was not a representative from my district, my voter registration would indicate that I was a supporter of what he claimed his constituents wanted from his representation. I wanted to voice my ideas directly to him so I looked up his information online. Part of this process required that I enter a zip code that matched with his district. Without a matching district zip code, I was blocked from communicating with him and would need to do further research if I wanted to communicate with him. Needless to say, I was a bit frustrated.
When we are in conflict with another, it may be on the assumption that the other is blocking our access to having our needs met. When we don't take time to listen, clarify and gather more information from the other, those assumptions push us further into a corner where we work even harder to protect our "facts". I've worked with individuals whose entire relationship is based on having conflict with the other and if that conflict is resolved, there is the danger that the relationship will end or have to be defined in a whole new way. This may be uncomfortable for the parties involved because it treads into new ways of thinking and how we conduct our selves. But just think of the possibilities for growth and learning!
In Tongue Fu, written by Sam Horn, she demonstrates how absolutes discredit the speaker and break down the ability to have dialogue. For example, "always", as in "you are always disagreeing with me" is an exaggeration. More accurate, "you sometimes disagree with me and I want to understand why". Or, "everyone always agrees with me" is probably less accurate than "often, many people agree with me while there are others that don't". This type of language invites clarification, further understanding and the opportunity for each to actively participate in the dialogue. Absolutes tend to shut the other down which is what we seem to hear a lot of in the media and political discourse these days. As a consequence, this style and tone is leaking into the workplace, our homes and communities. So instead of trying to better understand each other, we shut each other out at the first sign of disagreement.
It's okay to disagree. It's okay to hear something that conflicts with your own viewpoints. It's okay to say "tell me more" and then ask, "can I share with you what I know?".
If you are leader in the workplace, community or even a parent, it's really important that you provide access to those whose beliefs might not appear to be in alignment with yours. It's also a good idea to back up your beliefs and words with full information, not just assumptions. Before you say "everyone", "always", or "never", switch up your words to invite dialogue: "many", "sometimes", or "occasionally", and see what happens. You might learn something and realize that you had more in common with your opponent than you first assumed.
#communication #tonguefu #dialogue
Sunny E. Sassaman Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution Consultant