One night when there was nothing else on television, I decided to look for a movie on Netflix. I stumbled across one of those straight-to-DVD flicks that featured a couple who were dating but were seriously considering marriage. They'd been together a long time and seemed to know each other's qwerks pretty well. They were a young couple. The woman was a single mom whose son the boyfriend accepted as his own. He was the proverbial "good guy" who was able to stomach a demanding, disrespectful girlfriend because of his great love for her. Ironically, she suggested they go to couples' therapy before they decided to get married because she believed they needed to resolve a few issues first. One of the biggest issues was her--and that filthy mouth of hers. She spat so many expletives in a single sentence that you would've thought she viewed the love of her life as a worthless, mangy dog she'd prefer to have put down. She was demeaning, loud, confrontational, and completely out of control. She acknowledged her "language" problem as if it were a disease she couldn't shake. The therapist had to warn her not to use foul language in her office, and her boyfriend sounded like an Alzheimer's patient as he constantly repeated to her to clean up her conversation. Yet, this woman isn't unlike a lot of us in our work and personal relationships today. Many of us use profanity to express ourselves whether in simple comments or heated disagreements. We use it like common daily chat. But it's not. And we need to make adjustments if we want to maintain professionalism at work and peace at home.
Therefore, I have to assert rule #4 very strongly: When engaging others in conflict, watch your language. DO NOT USE PROFANITY. At this point, I'm sure I've lost most of you. That's a ridiculous rule, right? You're probably saying, "Hey, I'm not as bad as you're making that movie character sound." Yet you have to admit, you can have a bit of a "potty mouth" as so many people have told me. And in exercising full disclosure, if you push my buttons too hard and too long, you might hear a few choice words escape my lips too. Yes, we get boiling mad at times. Yes, cursing kind of helps to relieve the steam. However, it's one of the most ineffective ways to address another person in an argument. All it does is serve to escalate an already tense situation. Before you know it, you're calling them foul names, and hate is erupting like a volcano spewing lava of profanity and judgment. Whomever is close by is sure to get covered and burned. Your reaction only leads to the same response from the other side, and before you know it, a lot is being said that shouldn't. A lot that can't be taken back when the ash settles.
When we engage in communication with someone with which we don't agree, the idea is to neutralize untamed emotions so that you can have a meaningful exchange. Cursing is usually coupled with yelling and maybe even big, threatening gestures and acting out. Those are untamed emotions. You can be emotional; it's natural. But don't let emotion dictate the conversation. When we speak out of emotion and the emotion is out of control then such will become the language. But if we keep those emotions in check, then our language is likely to be in check. You can express your displeasure with impact and never have to use a foul word if you master how to communicate in conflict. If you want to know how, I offer a webinar called "How to Face Conflict With Confidence". Let me know you're interested, and I'll notify you of the next session. It takes skill and practice, but you can do it. Whatever you can say with profanity you can also say without it.
Monday, March 24, 2014
The next rule of engagement complements the prior. Don’t ridicule the other person’s opinions or try to discredit them. That's what you heard last time. But the distinguishing factor between that one and this one is this: Seek FIRST to CONSIDER what the other person has to say before rejecting or objecting to their views. If your automatic response in a time of conflict is to find ways to weaken the other side's perspective, then you haven't given much positive thought to what they are saying. Sure, you're hearing their side. But your motives aren't pure. You are listening only for faults so you can point them out. Your goal is not to understand or to place yourself on the other side of the argument. Your goal is to seek out the vulnerabilities and then pounce on them. You are looking for ways to strengthen your position while weakening theirs.
In this rule of engagement, your goal should be to listen for what makes sense about what the other side thinks. Your goal should be to listen intently for common ground, to find a way for both of you to get what you want, to compromise. Usually this happens only after all other arguments have been exhausted. We try to find a way to agree once emotions have already run high and out of control or you've hit a brick wall. Trying to find a way to have two opinions coexist as a last resort has already done too much damage. It's the throw-your-hands-up in surrender position. You've grown tired of the argument. You're giving in not because you seek to agree with the other opinion, but because you're just tired of fighting. That doesn't give the other side any feeling of confidence. They know your actions aren't genuine.
If your first act is to look for ways to discuss a difference of opinion for agreement, and you express your intent clearly, then the other side is immediately disarmed. You help them to understand that you don't want an argument. You want them to have what they need as much as you'd like to have your own opinion heard. Even though you may not agree, just giving the respect to another person's view can alter the course of the conversation. When all is said and done, to feel and receive mutual respect is almost as important as finally agreeing.
Monday, March 17, 2014
Since it's obvious conflict arises out of two sides with opposing views, the question becomes how can we express our views without the situation becoming contentious? Unfortunately, far too many people have not yet mastered how to disagree with another person without becoming angry or ridiculing the other perspective. When we feel too strongly about our own beliefs, we close ourselves off to hearing and considering anyone else's. This is wrong. This attitude will cause conflict to be destructive. Thus, the need to address the second rule.
Rule number two is this: Respect the other side’s opinions. You don’t have to agree with them, but everyone deserves the chance to be heard. To ignore, discredit or disregard another side of an issue is to practice arrogance and dominance. The two behaviors complement each other. To dominate does not allow for acts of humility, thus you can't dominate another person's opinion without also practicing arrogance. To dominate in this instance means you think of yourself more highly than others. You seek to control other people's opinions and ideas. You act as though you matter more. You're arrogant whether you see yourself as such or not. Arrogance doesn't permit other people to contribute. Everything has to be your way. At least that's the way it'll come across to others. "Now wait a minute", you say. "I'm not arrogant. I hear other people out." But do you really?
Think about how you listen. Is it to take into consideration what the other person is saying or is it to counter? Oftentimes, people will hear another person's viewpoint, but they're only listening to find a way to discredit it. They aren't often taking into consideration the different opinion as another alternative. They are looking for ways to prove themselves right and to find cracks in the other person's position. Therefore, consider your motives behind your effort to accommodate the other side. Are they sincere? Are you really respecting the other person's point of view? If not, remember this: the best way to engage another individual in a time of conflict when hearing their viewpoint is not to denigrate it, but to respect that they are entitled to one. And even though you don't have to agree to it, it's more important to listen to it--with respect.
Thursday, March 13, 2014
Of course, I realize arguments aren't quite that simple. They're fueled by wounded feelings, betrayal, and other ways we feel mishandled. But at the core of every disagreement is simply that: We don't agree. And that's okay. Really, it is. News flash: You can disagree with other people. It's perfectly fine so don't lose your head over it. Deal with it. And that's the crux of the matter. How do we deal with confrontation and conflict rationally? Well, establishing rules of engagement up front will make a difficult conversation less confrontational. Whether they are rules you can readily share with the other side or rules that you create for yourself, you've got to be prepared for when difficult conversations happen. So today and over the next 24 blog posts, I'm going to share with you The 25 Rules of Engagement in Conflict. Use them and modify them as you wish. My company also trains on this topic to corporations so if you feel the need to expound on this, visit us at www.thesharpersolution.com.
One rule that works well is to remember that a conversation is a dialogue, not a monologue. Too often when people are in disagreement with each other, they try to out-talk the other person. Of course both sides want to be heard. Unfortunately, they both tend to talk at the same time so neither is listening to the other. When one side doesn't feel heard, they talk louder. So in turn, the other side does the same. Next thing you know, both sides are yelling at each other, and not one of them is hearing what the other is saying fully. They get a few words and phrases here and there, and then they pounce on them. Thus, leading to a misunderstanding of what was really meant. The response to that misunderstanding is usually to be more hurtful than the other person. A lot gets said that shouldn't, and nothing gets resolved.
Do this: Stop and listen. Permit the other person to speak so that they can explain themselves fully. Then respond. Whenever you're given the opportunity to speak, make sure you don't monopolize the conversation. Recognize that this really is a conversation, a dialogue. And it takes two people to have one.