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Our blog about communicating throughout conflict

The Truth About Interruptions...and Dogs

When I get on the phone with a friend whom I haven't talked with in a while, we rarely finish a story or discussion without having taken a few "detours." It's almost like word association, where a word or name comes up and the other person immediately cuts in, interrupts, with a story.

That's okay when we're just catching up. Then, we don't always have to finish. And if we really do want to finish what we were saying, we can come back to it. But that isn't always the case in professional conversations or when there is disagreement.

When there is a conflict where mediators, attorneys, or police become involved or a professional conversation or disagreement , there's usually something at stake. People are often outcome-focused then. So, when they're interrupted, it frustrates their goal. It also annoys them because they don't feel heard or respected.

When we don't feel heard or respected, we tend to repeat ourselves and talk louder. We may even talk faster in an effort to not be...

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Frame Your Client...

...Communication. We've all had clients who are reluctant to move forward with something. For example, sometimes clients are reluctant to move forward with mediation, not wanting to face the opposing party. That can bring up a lot of emotions, so they may not be at their best or get the best outcomes.

If you preframe, their focus can shift to a feature that makes it more palatable, or at least more tolerable. So, instead of them going into it with negative expectations, they can go in feeling empowered, focusing on something positive to work toward.

 A frame, in communication, is very much like you relate to a frame for a picture. Frames contain the content, and they also set the perspective. Where a picture frame might draw out specific colors while others fade, a frame in communication may draw out specific perspectives around the topic while others fade. So, it's a great tool to use in the second essential element, or step, of conversations - relating.

Agreement frames,...

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For Better Results, Think INSIDE the Box

In the world of coaching, I frequently heard "Think outside the box" as being the best way to solve a problem. And I've said it, too. But now I'm reconsidering.

What if the best way to find better solutions is to, first, look within the box?

Communication training, for most of us, is limited. We learn subject, verb, predicate, etc, how to give a speech, and how to write an essay/report. In law school, we may also learn about writing a (not-so) brief and how to make an argument. But there's more to communication than that.

One thing we can learn is feedback. Not just the type where someone may holler at us or send a nasty email, but through subtle, nonverbal communication. How would your practice improve if you used an early warning system, giving you time to respond before things got out of hand? And that's just one listening skill we all have, but may not have developed fully.

There's another listening skill that is gifted to all of us at birth, and yet few of us actually know its...

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Don't make a funny face...It might freeze like that!

Imagine you are interacting with a person and you notice something about their nonverbal communication. Maybe they seem aloof, and it's not consistent with your experience of them. That'd be a great time to engage listening skills such as asking questions. Investigate. And if we don't really know that person well, this step becomes all the more important.

We can get a lot of data from nonverbal cues. So much, in fact, that the mind can easily be overwhelmed and need to filter down the numbers significantly as part of its own defense mechanism. It may also make assumptions and sell them to you as fact.

The worst part of this is that our minds may also "freeze frame" the person in that event. We may think, "If they were like that once that's who they always will be." So, it won't just affect that interaction, but may also color future interactions as well. At its extreme, it may even run away with the past: "Is that why that time in college...? And, you know, I didn't think much about...

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"They Don't Understand!"

"They don't understand!" is a common phrase that I hear in a number of contexts, and unfortunately it often means conflict isn't far away, either in the rearview mirror or around the corner.

I cringe when I hear this because of all that it entails. It implies that the speaker knows what the other person understands, that it's possible the other person could understand, and that the speaker understands the person they're speaking about. But, really, none of those is true.

We can't possibly understand what another person is experiencing. Each of us has different experiences, training, values, beliefs, and other filters through which we see and interpret the world. No two people, including identical twins who grew up together, can really "understand." We can empathize, though.

Before we can truly empathize, though, we have to have something to empathize with. The best way to gain true empathy, then, is through solid listening skills. Sounds easy, doesn't it? But there's more to...

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Haters're Gonna LOVE...or at Least Respect

Have you or a client received a negative comment on social media? A lot of people are under the belief that "haters' gonna hate," and therefore attempt to ignore or block them. But is that really the best idea?

If the person isn't already a client, ignoring may be easy. But easy isn't always the best response. Sooner or later, a client will be the hater. And then what do you do? Regardless, a professional response may be the best client relations strategy.

Ignoring or blocking someone is still a statement. A decision not to act is still time and energy spent making the decision. Therefore, it's still an action. And, from what I've seen, most people will end up rehashing it anyway, and may even run it by people. Worse, it's an action based on fear, anger, or other emotions that may not be resourceful. So, the people who say, "Don't waste energy on the haters" may be steering people off course by that recommendation.

And, by ignoring or blocking, you may be missing out on a great...

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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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1 Listening Skill You Can Develop Further without More Training

One of the hallmarks of a good employee is someone who is willing to bring the difficult things to your attention. It shows ownership and thinking beyond personal responsibilities. Further, stripping people of that ability is a catalyst for conflict, not to mention loss of morale and other costly issues. So how do we encourage this?

One of the best ways is also a key element of effective communication - develop great listening skills. Scheduling, one of the listening skills, can be accomplished without further training. And it's critical for good client communication and staff communication. There's more to it than we may think, though.

When client or staff person asks if they can share something or if they can have a moment, they're asking for focus. They care enough to bring something to your attention or ask for your perspective. In order to respect them, then, it may work best to schedule them for another time. When scheduling, be sure to ask about the nature of the conversation...

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Why Elephants Make So Much Noise

I can't not address the elephant in the room this week. The world's cage was, once again, rattled by terrorism that a group has taken responsibility for. Some people are encouraging people to turn off the media - "Don't Listen!" Others feel fear and anger. Some are completely silent. You may hear, "We need to do better" or "Love each other" or any number of other things in the aftermath. And those are not wrong - I certainly want us to do better, love each other, and not be overwhelmed. And I also believe one way for us to do better, love each other, and not be inundated with media reports to the point of overwhelm in the future is to listen to each other. We need to develop and use listening skills in the schools, in the home, and in the office as well.

The scariest thing for me isn't having someone hollering at me, but the point at which they are done talking if they are still angry. As long as they are talking, there is something I can do - listen. Not in the sense that you sit...

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Warning: Losing Blood Flow to Your Little Finger May Cause Uncontrollable Contentment

One Easter I was out on a walk when I heard a child crying. I was heading toward some apartments, so I didn't pay too much attention, figuring parents were nearby. But as I continued to walk, the crying turned into full-on panic-stricken wailing that not only went unchecked, but continued to escalate. Snagged. Even as I felt the screams radiate through my body, they led me by the heart strings until I laid eyes on a toddler who was going to every door, trying to get in. She ran toward me when I squatted down, called to her gently, and held my hand out, smiling encouragingly.

She was obviously terrified as she stifled sobs, clutching tightly to her doll and her newest acquisition - my little finger. While I was looking for her, I saw other people rush right by her, visibly shrinking as they rounded their shoulders, ducked their heads, and took smaller, quicker steps, almost as if they didn't want her to see them. How was it, then, that now this busy apartment complex, previously...

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