Effective Speaking and Conflict Management

I recently blogged about conflict management and the utilization of active listening.  I truly believe that listening to people, in the majority of conflict situations, helps to de-escalate things considerably; we all want to have confirmation that we have been understood.  We can help guide an interaction in various ways.  Many of us, because we are already tapped out from our busy lives, often choose the easy, and I’ll go ahead and say it, the LAZY route with people, even if the “resolution” is not the ideal.  Sometimes we want to wrap things up as quickly as possible, and that is not always the most advantageous route, especially if we’re dealing with angry clients or co-workers.  Just as active listening is important, so is effective speaking.  How many times have you gotten in an argument and spewed out hateful words, only for those words to come back and haunt you later?  It truly takes a humble man or woman to accept a tirade calmly and redirect it down a path towards collaboration.  It’s not an easy task, and those who are effective in conflict/confrontational management are creating art when they smooth things out.  Some people seem to have an innate ability, or fantastic social intelligence and display adeptness at diplomacy in pre-school.  Nevertheless, it is something we can all learn, practice and improve upon!

Choosing the right words in a situation can make all the difference.  Granted, most of what you say is non-verbal, but a careless word can still incite rage and cause grief forever.  When you are trying to resolve an issue, state the problem carefully without focusing too much on the fact that there is a problem.  Everyone is painfully aware there is an elephant in the room, which is why the conflict arose in the first place.  Show respect to the other party and speak for yourself.  Try using open statements that encourage dialogue, as closed statements, or very definitive statements tend to shut things down quickly.  You might try opening your observational statements with phrases like:

I would say. . .

I think. . .

I believe. . .

I feel. . .

I consider. . .

In my opinion. . .

It seems to me. . .

Do you know someone who speaks with exaggerated words all the time?  Do they use these words to describe something you have done?  Does it make you angry when they do?  It does most people.  It’s very irritating to be told, “You always do this. . .”  Avoid using these kinds of terms: every, everyone, always, never, only, everybody, all, as they tend to distort your meaning and throw a monkey wrench in communication.  Try using words that soften your message like: hardly ever, frequently, rarely, mostly, usually, in general, almost.

Avoid using words that command others and have a way of forcing compliance and conformity.  Especially avoid these in conjunction with the word “you”: must, have to, ought, should.

In addition to choosing effective words and sentence structures, it is SO important to make your non-verbals match up with your verbals.  Use speech volume, rate, tone, pitch and inflection; how you say what you say it is just as important as saying it.  Even more so!  Did you know that if folks get a funny feeling about the words that are falling out of your mouth, they will fall back on the non-verbals as the “proof” of what you are saying?  Make your way of speaking congruent with what you are saying.

In the midst of what is hopefully not an all-out argument, be flexible with your communication.  If you find that your messages are creating defensive and/or adversarial reactions in the other party, don’t be afraid to try another tactic.  No sense in beating a dead horse.  You want to keep the communication going and this doesn’t happen if you shut them down (and they might resort to stonewalling, sulking and end up resentful).

I read a great little rule of thumb for effective speaking:

Say what you are going to say, say it, and say what you said.

This should help get your point across.  If not, it’s time to shift gears, of course.  De-escalation takes sensitivity and finesse, and inside you may feel like initiating the all-out beat-down.  Nevertheless, cleverness can get you out of tight spots in managing conflict and aggressive behavior, and any time you can do that instead of fighting, it is usually the most desirable choice.


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