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Why Flexibility is Critical to Effective Communication

conflict resolution effective communication

In discussions regarding a political hearing, people were expressing frustration at how the whole thing was "a farce," "a waste of time," "disappointing," etc. That is frequently the case when communication doesn't result in the desired outcome. And while that can be frustrating, there are things we can do for more effective communication and to change the outcome. One of the biggest is having flexibility.

It's been said that the system with the greatest flexibility wins. We've all heard the analogy to the stiff, dry twig breaking while the green twig of similar diameter bends, and it's true for communication as well. When we ask, say, or nonverbally communicate something the recipient may have an unexpected or undesired response. We've all had that happen. And we can't change that, but we may be able to change the final outcome, because we still have the opportunity and maybe even the responsibility, in some cases, to respond accordingly.

We have responsibility for our part of communication. If there is a misunderstanding, it is usually in everyone's best interest to resolve that. Hopefully, if someone is offended by what we said, for example, we wouldn't say it again louder or walk away, but sometimes that is exactly what happens for lack of knowing what else to do.

Most people don't receive any training on what communication really includes, so we don't understand the options we have in order to get the desired outcome. And as a result we end up in conflict. Unfortunately, many people aren't comfortable with conflict, so they throw in the towel at that point.

When we don't know about the options, we feel backed into a corner. When that happens, we shut down; we may not listen or speak, or if we do, we may quickly end up wishing we hadn't. In some cases, violence ensues. That's why flexibility is critical in communication - it offers choices that can help prevent conflict and are also key in conflict resolution and de-escalation.

The first part of flexibility is recognizing what the parts of communication are and which parts we are responsible for. And when I say, "responsible," we could also say, "what we control." Communication has multiple parts: what we say; how it is interpreted; how others respond; how we interpret it; how we respond; and so on. And each of those has multiple factors, which is what makes it so complicated and, at times, frustrating.

Some of those factors include rapport, levels of abstraction, assumptions, emotions, and focus. And the good news is that we can learn about those, and when we master them, we have more options, keeping us out of those corners and creating more effective communication for better results in conflict resolution and de-escalation.

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