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Our blog about communicating throughout conflict

Why Texting and Guns Don't Mix

It's not often that I start out with a disclaimer, but here it is: This is not an argument for or against gun control. If you choose to comment about that, as always, keep your comments respectful.

Since the advent of texting and instant messaging, there's a lot of what I call, 'micro-communication.' It's so short now people aren't even spelling out words. Just by itself, this abbreviated communication gets us into a lot of trouble.

Conflict happens because of the lack of communication, not the presence of it. And even with the telephone, face-to-face, and email communication, there were gaps in communication.

The challenge with gaps is that our mind fills them in. It fills them in so quickly and subconsciously, in fact, that we aren't even aware that assumptions have been made. And because of that, we don't verify assumptions. Those gaps, filled with unverified assumptions, expand during micro-communication.

The assumptions may be exponential though, in comparison with the increase...

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How Christmas with Family Turns into WWIII

I wonder how many people have referred to family arguments as WWIII. It's about as common as saying something is, "cute as a button."

Now, you and I both know that most buttons are not cute. But in a way, WWIII has been started at the dinner table, especially at holidays. Family is a large part of many people's world, so if you or a person you care about don't get along with another person you care about, I can see that being like a personal world war.

That's pretty easy to create; it's just escalation. One person lobs a conversation starter. That triggers the other person, who reacts in kind. Conversation can't stay the same, though, when energy is put into it. So, eventually someone will take the "high" road, escalating the volume, intensity, speed, etc of the conversation. Boom! Fireworks.

Not only is it easy, it almost seems natural. Instinctive. No malice aforethought required. In fact, most of these wars are started with good intentions.

Conflict often starts when someone is...

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Lessons on Conflict from Natural Disasters

Looking at videos of people dealing with effects of hurricanes and earthquakes, one thing stands out...People going to great lengths to help people and animals. Something about natural disasters sets us up to reach out.

These are urgent situations, so the mind doesn't have time to figure out a plan. Usually what happens, instead, is we get one step at a time. And that's probably best, because sometimes the steps seem to go against logic. But if we're already down that road and in over our head with no better plan, we might as well follow through.

But what would happen if we did that even when there wasn't a massive incident we were already involved in?

Generally, when I commit to something before I have a chance to overthink it, I play a bigger and better game. And that's what we're seeing now in the various events that have hit recently - people jumping in without overthinking, and it's allowing them to do more than they might have imagined. We can do the same during conflict.

We...

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The Danger of Labels

Since the deadly protest rally in Charlottesville, people have been referring to people who have supremacist ideology as "white supremacists" or "neo-nazi's." But labels, those or otherwise, run a dangerous risk of backfiring.

When we label someone, it becomes their identity. The only thing people see, then, is that one characteristic. So, that becomes their only source of power.

That's a problem because it causes them to hold tightly to that. So, the label almost becomes a dare. They dig their heels in, defending all that is.

But it doesn't just affect them; it affects our ability to work with them because we can't see other aspects of them.

If you're thinking, "That's fine. I want nothing to do with them," consider that to the extent we can find common ground on other issues, we stand a chance of affecting this belief of theirs, too, or at least putting it on a back burner.

And by creating a label, there are now only 2 groups: those who are, and those who aren't. But some people who...

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Beware of the Egg

Currently, 12 republican members of the Senate are meeting behind closed doors, drafting their version of the health care bill. This issue affects the public health and U.S. labor and economy massively, yet it doesn't even have the benefit of hearings in the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Without those hearings, the Senate will have trouble relating to their constituents' needs because they haven't heard them on the issue. Receiving one-way voicemail or email messages, especially on this issue, isn't enough to qualify.

People don't always know what to say or how to say it, and their unique circumstances may require dialog for the senators to understand them. That's especially true on an emotional, complex, and individual issue like health care. And even if the senators were receiving all the information well, it'd still leave the people without any feedback. (They may receive a stock email that doesn't pertain to their message, but that doesn't let them know their...

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Don't Hit the Brakes When You're Getting in Front of Conflict!

"Get in front of it." People say that a lot lately. But when it comes to conflict, that may be easier said than done. Yet, it's important for conflict resolution. 

You want to keep conflict from growing and requiring more complex conflict resolution efforts. You need to nip it in the bud. That means recognizing the presence or possibility of it as early as possible and taking fast, effective action in response.

One thing you need, then, is to be able to recognize the early warnings. You have to be skilled in observing subtle nonverbal communication and other listening skills. It's your earliest and most accurate information.

You also have to know what to do once you recognize it. You don't want to hit the brakes or stall after you get in front of it. In other words, you need a plan.

I used to really dislike the idea of systems and plans, but they do have a few things going for them. They can reduce decision fatigue and improve consistency. And when it comes to conflict, they can...

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Does Double Jeopardy Apply to Victims?

Victims have power. They do. It's just not their own. Instead, it belongs to the role - People want to jump into rescue people in that position. And in conflict resolution, it's not an effective position for consistent results.

It's sort of like a person leading by title instead of by character and earned respect. The problem with power by role is that it's finite. As soon as things get messy, this person will land face down in the mud, and when they come up, the honeymoon is over. They'll react by looking back to find the reasons to justify them sitting there. Not only that, but also, like titles, the person must maintain that position consistently, so they can't put the incident behind them.

The point where things get messy can have a different response from a person who acts through personal responsibility. That person will get up and ask how they can close the gap from where they are to where they want to be. They may even turn an apparent negative into a positive. We all have...

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Aisle Take Blame for $1000

On November 8, 2016, the world experienced a new level of blame, rocking the world of social media as people took in what, for some, was a surprising result. Over a week later, I still see posts blaming others. I don't know how beneficial that is.

Is it creating deeper friendships? No. I bet there has never been a time when Facebook's unfriend function has been more heavily utilized. Blame is not conducive to conflict resolution.

Is it persuasive? No. Putting people on the defensive is not a good way to help them be receptive to listening to your concerns much less addressing them. Plus, we need to collaborate, and that means gaining trust and sharing responsibility.

It's disempowering to give responsibility away because if we give it away, then we cease to look at what we could do differently next time and how we can collaborate in conflict resolution for this event. We also lose credibility, and we stop looking for ways we can respond going forward. That's true regardless of...

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

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...

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Warning: You Must Use This Key or You May Lock Yourself Out

Have you ever gone deeper into something you didn't expect to like, only to discover you actually did like it after all? I did that with business law in college. The course I took to prove to myself it wasn't a good fit turned out to be something I liked so well I went to law school and got a license to practice law. And you can see how law school can change the way you see the world around you. A banana, for example, is no longer just a fruit; it is also a harbinger for a tort. Life experiences, especially as a first-year law student, suddenly present as questions for a final or a bar exam.

When we change our perception of one thing, we are in a different position than we were in before, and that means we are now in a different position with respect to other things. That's why if we quit looking for our keys or glasses and focus on something else, the keys or glasses turn up. Conflict resolution works the same way.

When I am mediating cases, one of the best things I can do is...

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