No matter what you do for a living, one of the core skills that you must nurture and constantly grow is your ability to communicate effectively. Relationships, be they professional, platonic, romantic, or otherwise are built up or torn down by how we communicate with one another. Say the right thing at the right time, and you empower a project to move forward, seal a professional relationship with a customer or vendor, or just make someone’s day a little better. Say the wrong thing, however, then the project stalls, the customer walks, or you’ve wounded someone in a way that you probably didn’t intend. Recovery from that mistake may or may not be possible, depending on the many variables of the situation.
Now, I’m no psychologist, nor am I a communications major like my daughter is striving toward. So definitely don’t take anything I’m proposing here as professional advice. However, with over 25 years experience behind me dealing with my fellow humans in a professional capacity, I’d like to share some of the things that I’ve learned along the way that have genuinely helped me, in the hope that they’ll help someone grow in their own lives as communicators. Hopefully any conversation that it garners will help me to grow as a communicator as well.
This will be the first in a serious of blog posts that I’ve been wanting to write for a while. I believe that good communication skills are paramount to a peaceful, functional, and informed community. But in a world that’s so driven by social media, accusations of “fake news” from both sides of the political spectrum, and short tempers, I feel like communication skills have been allowed to deteriorate. If I can help change that for the better, in even a small way, then taking the time to write these will be well worth the effort.
One of the toughest forms of communication that we must learn to master is that of communication with someone that we’re in conflict with. Sometimes that conflict is the result of differing opinions regarding strongly held religious or political beliefs. It might be the result of frustrations caused by a misunderstanding of what the other party said, or was trying to say. And other times, conflict can be caused by someone who’s simply trying to get the edge up “on the competition” during a race for job promotion, a position on a team, etc.
Regardless of the cause of the conflict, I’ve always found that the best way to resolve the conflict is to follow a few key principles. Now, to be clear, this is specifically about communication as it relates to conflict. If things get physical, that’s a different beast altogether, and clearly needs to be treated differently. However, hopefully, good communication skills would limit the need for such interactions.
For starters, it’s always good to try and understand where the other person “is coming from”. If they disagree with you, there’s a reason why. Don’t judge them, or brush their viewpoint aside, but try to understand their point of view. Just making that effort, showing the other person that you’re actually interested in their view point, will often help to bring the situation down. This doesn’t mean that you have to change your own opinion, of course, but by actually listening to them, you’re less likely to be seen as an adversary, and by being open minded, you MIGHT change your opinion if what the other person has to say provides you with information that you didn’t previously have, or was maybe said in a way that you’d never heard before, and so you are able to think a bit differently on the subject.
Next, don’t raise your voice. Don’t shout. Whatever you’re saying to the other person will likely be nearly the same words, whether you shout them, or say them in a calm tone. The difference is that shouting typically causes the other person to shout as well, with each of you simply getting louder and louder; neither of you is really listening anymore, and conversation comes to a close with no resolution, and flared tempers. If the other person is shouting, but you continue to talk in a calm, rational voice, this will often cause the other person to come back down as well. When you’re talking, you’re hearing, you’re listening. When you’re shouting, you’re simply trying to win. That’s how it will most likely be seen. This is a tough skill to master. Believe me, I get it. I’ve definitely been there. But it’s important to master it nonetheless.
On important points, get in the habit of repeating back what you believe you heard in order to confirm that it’s what other person intended to say. If you misheard or misinterpreted what the other person was saying, this is a great way to make sure you “set the record straight”, and shows the other person that you are genuine in wanting to understand their point of view.
“So, you’re saying that it’s not the fact that I emailed ABC Company that’s bothering you, but rather, the fact that I forgot to include you in the communication chain? And you feel like you’ve been left out of the conversation?”
“OK, I can totally understand that! And you’re right, you should be involved. I’ll forward you the communications that we’ve had so far, and add to my notes on ABC Company to include you on all future communications.”
“Great, thank you!”
If you misheard, or misunderstood, then the other party has the chance now to set the record straight, and because you’ve shown that you’re concerned with truly understanding them, they’re own frustrations are likely to drop.
Building and maintaining good communication skills, like anything, takes hard work and dedication. It can be frustrating. But it will pay dividends in the end. And knowing the best ways to deescalate conflicts can create rewarding outcomes for all involved. This skill is extremely important to have.