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Why "Parrot Phrasing" May Not Start Discussion on the Right Foot

conflict resolution listening skills rapport

In trainings for mediation, parrot phrasing has been identified as the way to reflect back what we hear the parties say in their opening statements, and I'm not so sure that's the best way to do that. In fact, it's one of my pet peeves for a number of reasons:

1.) By itself, it may break rapport with the other person. If a party says something, and it creates a shift in another party, repeating it could put us, unnecessarily, on thin ice and cause that other party to escalate or shut down.

2.) At the same time, it may come across as mimicking or unnatural, and parties can pick up on that, causing them to question what we say. That's a tough thing to recover from, especially when that is an early impression.

3.) Using the same words back doesn't mean we "get it." It means we can copy, and that may not build confidence right out of the gate. It also may represent a lost opportunity to start bringing the parties together.

4.) In fact, if we do use the same words, it could reinforce some ideas that may be at issue.

With these concerns, it makes sense to consider other alternatives, one great one being rapport. Rapport is an essential part of conflict resolution.

When working toward conflict resolution, it is essential that we have good listening skills and emotional intelligence, and parroting back what we hear seems pedestrian. Coupled with the risks listed above, at the very least we must take care to build excellent rapport with all parties when reflecting what we heard. Doing this will help reduce the first two concerns. But why stop there?

Rapport is a connection based on common ground with a sense of trust, empathy, and respect. That, alone, can help us achieve exactly what we are after with parrot phrasing, not the least of which is demonstrating good listening skills and creating the sense of being heard. If we reflect back what we heard the person say using specific key words and rapport, that will go a long way toward getting an already stressful discussion started on the best possible footing. And rapport doesn't stop there.

In the presence of a good rapport, we can create an environment that increases the feeling of safety. When we have that, the circle of comfort expands, and we may become more open as a result. This is huge in the context of conflict resolution and other contexts as well.

When we open up to communication, it usually goes both ways - we not only share more that can unlock the solution, but also we are more open to new ideas as well. And as we do, our physiology, tonality, and words may change, possibly bringing us into rapport with the person we were previously "up against." This creates a better likelihood of reaching an agreement that parties will abide by.

Rapport is also key in de-escalation. It is a prerequisite to some strategies, and it also, by itself, can help reduce the need for it or at least reduce the extent of the emotion. So, even if parrot phrasing, for whatever reason, must remain a part of the mediation process, building rapport must be considered mandatory as well. It is significant for emotional intelligence and effective communication, both of which are critical in the context of conflict resolution.

Our upcoming course will beef up this skill. While we are able to build rapport naturally in some circumstances, it is not sufficient in all. Conflict resolution is one situation when the ability to deliberately choose to improve our connection and build a sense of trust, empathy, and respect is warranted.

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