by Bryan Hanson
We have all done it, we read an email, interpreted ill intention, and fired off a defensive response that can turn a simple matter into a highly escalated conflict. I don’t believe anyone would disagree that email is a very difficult way to address conflicts, yet it is often an approach we will take. It feels safe, it seems simple, and it gives us an opportunity to express what we want to without being interrupted or receiving direct, face-to-face feedback that may make us feel uncomfortable.
So, what is the answer for ending the cycle of conflict that this scenario can create? Can we improve this method for engagement? What other actions can we take towards alleviating the conflict before escalates beyond a point that is necessary? I wish I had the perfect answer for all situations, but will use this short blog post to help people be more aware of how this situation can be transformed into an opportunity for better understanding, rather than extreme frustration.
First of all, we must acknowledge that the fast pace of our lives and the communication tools and channels we came to depend on are not necessarily always helping us when it comes to communicating our messages effectively. Our messages are condensed to fit our time frames and our character limits. This simple change in our messaging can leave a lot to be interpreted by the receiver. If the receiver has attributions developed by previous interactions or conversations with the sender or anyone else regarding the topic, the message can easily be misinterpreted and assumptions can add negative meanings that cause a sense of tension in the receiver.
An initial step to easing this tension is to become aware of the sensations the tension raises within you. If you feel the message you received is causing you to feel defensive, frustrated, or angry, it is time to reflect on what it is about the message that is doing this. Is there potential that you could be misinterpreting something within the message? Is there a need for clarity? Instead of shooting back an email or text, take the time to think about what is causing this tension within you, pick up the phone or walk down the hall, and speak to the person in an open and non-defensive manner.
This will allow you to pick up nuances unavailable via text-based communication, and will allow you to ask clarifying questions to ensure you understand the message correctly. I am not saying this will make the conflict go away, but it can at least help you engage in it in a more constructive manner.
It would be great to hear if others here on the ADRHub have come up with strategies they use themselves, or share with their clients to help stop the cycle of conflict created by the communication tools we use today. Feel free to leave your strategies or comments in the discussion forum below.
Bryan Hanson, the Assistant Director of the Werner Institute received his Master of Arts degree in Organizational Psychology from John F. Kennedy University, his graduate certificate in Organizational Conflict Management from John F. Kennedy University and his Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Communications from Minnesota State University - Mankato.