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The Five Secrets of Conflict Resolution and Prevention

The Five Secrets of Conflict Resolution and Prevention

Communication expert, Dr. Rick Brinkman, reveals the secrets to preventing and resolving conflict with others.

Who needs conflict when there are so many more better things to do. Conflict may be a part of life, but the good news is communication is like a phone number, you need all the digits and you need him in the right order. There is a “phone number” in communication that will quickly resolve conflict when it occurs and even better prevent it in the first place.

In this article, you’ll discover the five key communication skills that, when programmed into your behavior, will instantly empower you to resolve and prevent conflict. Let’s review the Five Secrets of the Conscious Communicator – and when and how to use them.

Secret #1: Monitor Your Tone of Voice

The three main parts to communication are “how you look”, “how you sound”, and “what you say.” When all three parts are congruent, messages are perceived clearly. A study by Professor Albert Moriabian concluded that when the parts are mismatched, we apply different weight to the three parts: 55% of the meaning we derive is from how it looks, 38% from how it sounds; volume, speed and tone, and 7% from words that are spoken.

Conflict arises most often when there is a mismatch between words and tone. Tone reflects emotional state. Have you ever had someone “customer serving” you and in a bored monotone say, “Have a nice day.” Do you believe they care about your day? Of course not, because when tone does not match words, the words become irrelevant and people only react to the tone. Tone is taken more personally than any other part of communication.

If you hear your tone taking you off track, acknowledge your tone and state a direction: “I’m sorry I sound angry. It has nothing to do with you.”

Secret #2: Let People Feel Understood First

An argument is nothing more than two people who want to be understood at the same time, but no one is able to do it. Train yourself to focus on understanding the other person first. You will both avoid conflict and when it is occurring you’ll have the skills to drill deeper and create resolution.

Your signal that people are not feeling heard and understood is when they repeat themselves. You’ll want to immediately give them feedback to know if you heard and understood them.

The best kind of initial feedback is backtracking. Repeat some of what the other person said — from just a few sentences to a complete summary — using their actual words. After backtracking, clarify, ask questions to make sure you understand. Ask them even if you think you do understand, because backtracking shows you’re listening, and clarifying shows you care to find out more. Together, this gives people the feeling of being understood.

Only after you have confirmed that you understand them should you move to what you have to say.

Secret #3: Intent is Purpose

Intent is the purpose behind an action or communication. For example:

“In order to understand…”

“So we can put this behind us…”

If you pay attention to the resolution phase of an argument, you will find people speaking intent that went misunderstood in the first place.

For example, “The reason I said that was….” or “I was only trying to help.”

Speaking intent upfront can avoid misunderstanding by orienting the other person to what you are trying to say. If you think of communication like a phone number, intent is the area code.

Secret #4: Gather Criteria

Criteria are reasons for or against. You know it’s time to gather criteria when ideas are being discussed or people have a disagreement on point of view. Let’s say you are at a meeting at which your team is deciding where to hold the program. Three different teammates have three different suggestions on where to hold the conference. One says at the office, another says at a hotel, and a third says at a resort.

If you want to understand people first, you can’t leave this at face value. Only by backtracking and clarifying can you find out each person’s criteria. As it turns out, each person has a highly valued criterion — one is concerned with budget, one with keeping focused, and one with teamwork. Knowing the criteria makes it much more likely that they will be able to come to an agreement on where to hold the conference that integrates all the factors.

Secret #5: Behavioral Definitions

Words – especially those that define behavior – mean different things to different people. For example, some people define “listening” as quietly taking in everything another person is saying, while other people define “listening” as asking questions and sharing their own experiences.

You’ll know it’s time to get behavioral definitions if someone says to you, “You don’t ______” – Fill in the blank and you know you do. Reply by saying with intent, “I would like to _____.

“How would you know if I did ____?  Clarify with questions until the other person is completely behaviorally specific. Then ask, “How do you know that I don’t ____?”

Ask the positive first because otherwise it could sound challenging.

For example if the other person says you don’t “care”, the root of the issue could either be that you are “not” doing something equals “caring” to them or that you “are” doing something that equals not “caring.

In Review

In my research I have found that paying attention to these five simple things will eliminate at least half the conflict in your life.

1. Monitor your tone of voice. If there is a mismatch between tone and words, acknowledge your tone to get back on track.

2. Let people feel understood first. Help them clarify and get out whatever it is they have to say. Assume you don’t know what people are talking about even if you think they do and clarify for specifics.

3. Pay attention to positive intent. State your intentions up front to set up a clearer communication and project positive intent as you listen to others.

4. Discover criteria. The reason people like or dislike ideas or have a particular point of view is based on their criteria. Assume you know nothing until you find out the other person’s criteria and vice versa.

5. Behavioral Definitions. When people say, “You don’t …” and you know you do, that’s an issue with behavioral definitions. Make sure both of you understand each other’s behavioral definitions.

When you wire these 5 Conscious Communication secrets into your behavior, you’ll nip conflict in the bud and be an agent of positive change for all of those around you.

To read more from Dr. Rick Brinkman, check out his popular book, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand.
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The Five Secrets of Conflict Resolution and Prevention

Dr. Rick Brinkman is the coauthor of the international bestseller Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, which has been translated into 25 languages. His new book, Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, How to Meet Less and Do More is available now. He is a top keynote speaker and trainer on leadership, teamwork, customer service, effective meetings, difficult people, and managing multiple priorities.