I often help clients deal with conflicts in their life, whether those are internal or external. Conflict can arise when there are opposing views, wants and needs regarding issues; one party sees things their way but so does the other party. When these opposing views cannot be resolved, conflict will occur.
Conflict does not result in – or have to – war. Conflict can arise between deciding if you should eat the salad or the doughnut, or if you want to watch Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune. When dealing with others, words can lead to misunderstanding or confusion which can then lead to conflict or repercussions later.
But I find that most people are vague in the words they use, despite feeling they are being clear. Words can have different meaning to each person. I find anger is one of them, as it has different levels, such as being ticked off or upset. One person may complain that their boss is always angry but the boss feels frustrated that the report is late. It’s how the boss conveys his frustration that elicits his worker’s response.
When the boss conveys the project and expectation, have they been clear? While they may have been, he/she needs to keep in mind that each of their workers will interpret it in their own way. If one of them has experience working with the project before, the worker may start working on it to avoid the same problems; however, another worker may see the project in a different light and begin working on their ideas. When these two workers have to come together, now heated discussions result and, perhaps, hurt feelings.
How do we go beyond the words to ensure clarity and agreement? One big suggestion is to ensure all parties give their feedback on what they know about the issue/task being asked to hear their interpretations; I have done this in classes I teach and am always amazed at all of the different responses. Remember that, as with any communication, just because a message was sent out does not mean it was received in the same way.
Being absolutely clear on the goal is crucial to getting things done. Another suggestion is to convey the benefit of what is being asked as, if I don’t feel I’m going to benefit or I can’t see any positive in the request, I’m more likely to reject it and only do it out of necessity, not putting in my best effort. But, when I understand the reason and the benefit (or purpose), I am more likely to accept it and get to work.
In clarity of our words, there are words that can elicit emotion from both the sender and the receiver, such as:
- you – this is a very accusatory word, putting someone on the defensive so they want to fight back, often leading to high conflict
- why – this is a very ambiguous word, as the brain does not understand it; so the why did you becomes ‘huh?’ in the response to which a thousand excuses can arise
- always/never – these box someone in to a particular behavior (i.e. ‘you always say xx89″ or ‘you never greet me in the morning)
- could/should/must – these, again, are definitives and absolutes but can have more meaning to one party than the other (i.e. you should do the procedure this way; you could stay late and help out more, etc.). These are influenced by our family or societal rules, and who says I should/could/must?
- Someday or Maybe – again, very vague
Watching the words said and being crystal clear on the meaning is crucial to having good conversations and relationships and will resolve any problems that may arise. This releases oxytocin, which is our bonding chemical, and builds trust and connection. Words have the power to build these so, when communicating, choose your words wisely. (FYI: this includes words you say to yourself).
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