Conflicts? Tips for Better Communication

by Marie-Josée Fortin

Conflicts are inevitable in every relationship. A conflict is not a problem in itself. The way it is managed, however, can tear partners apart or strengthen their bond. Certain elements are important in managing conflicts well: listening and understanding; and expressing yourself and finding a compromise.

Listening & Understanding

In conflicts or disagreements, we generally want to be heard and understood. Therefore, we present the way we see things and try to convince the other person. But during this time, the person we’re speaking to is also busy trying to convince the other person. Therefore, nobody is listening. So first of all, try to understand the other person by listening to his or her point of view. This attitude will encourage the other person to then listen as well.

It is also important to identify the factors that influence our perceptions and could take away from our efforts to listen: our prejudices, our values, our past experiences, our vision, etc.

People often have the impression that they are listening, when in fact they are thinking about what they are going to say when it’s their turn to talk. Here are some good listening attitudes:

  • Be open to the other person’s ideas.
  • Ask questions to understand better.
  • Encourage the other person to express him/herself.
  • Show the other person that you are listening by nodding your head or giving another sign.

You cannot be listening if:

  • You are focused on yourself and not on the other person.
  • Your head is in the clouds or you’re stressed.
  • You are preparing your answer because you can’t wait to give your reply.
  • You are defensive.

Practising active listening by summarizing or reformulating in your own words what you understood the other person to have said; this helps:

  • Verify if you clearly understood the other person’s message.
  • Avoid misunderstandings.
  • Verify if you are on the same wavelength as the other person.

When someone criticizes us, we are quick to think that he or she is wrong and we become defensive. Although criticism is difficult to hear, and often exaggerated because of the other person’s emotions, it is necessary to listen to and attach its importance to the other person’s emotions. Furthermore, it is important to try to determine if there is truth in what was said as this is valuable information.

Expressing Yourself & Finding Common Ground

First of all…avoid building up discontent. Talk about these things as you go along.

  • Directly address the person concerned.
  • Be aware of the result that you will get: make progress vis-à-vis the situation, or hurt the other person.
  • Only deal with one topic at a time.
  • Don’t bring the past back.
  • Give yourself enough time to talk with the person and discuss the issue.

Take responsibility for your own actions by using “I” sentences. This means…

  • Don’t implicate the other person by using “We” sentences.
  • Don’t accuse/blame the other person by using “You” sentences.

Instead of saying things like “You really messed everything up in here.” Start your sentence instead with “I” and talk about how you feel. For example, “I hate it when everything is all messed up.” This approach is less accusatory, which doesn’t lead the other person to get defensive, but rather to try and understand.

Find the right tone of voice by…

  • Remembering that calmness creates calmness, whereas aggression leads to aggression.
  • Allowing yourself to step back for a few minutes to calm yourself down again.

Deliver a clear message by…

  • Using the name of the person when talking about him or her, instead of using “he” or “she”.
  • Avoiding generalizations.
  • Staying with the present situation and dealing with one topic at a time.
  • Supporting your point of view with concrete facts.

Express to the other person what “I” feel, how the situation makes “me” feel.

  • Avoid blackmail and veiled threats.
  • Use humour and not sarcasm.
  • Expressing yourself is also an expression of satisfaction in being able to talk and be heard.
  • Expressing yourself is also to compliment and congratulate.

Look for a compromise

Instead of trying to win the battle, search for a solution that will satisfy everyone. Whether by compromise or by finding another solution, this will give to each person what is important to them. This is more effective than solutions that satisfy one person at the expense of the other person. Communicating well also includes finding arrangements that make everyone happy.

Admit When You Are Wrong

Be aware that a sense of responsibility is a strength not a weakness. Communicating well includes knowing how to admit when you’re wrong. If two people share responsibility in a conflict, which is nearly always the case, each person must accept his or her own part. If you show yourself to be an adult and assume your responsibilities, this will encourage the other person to do the same.

Take Breaks

Sometimes temperaments heat up and it becomes too difficult to continue the discussion, which then spirals downward into a fight! If you feel that your partner or yourself are too heated up to be constructive, or you have entered a conversation without an exit, it’s a great idea to take a little break!

Don’t Abandon

Even if it’s better to take a little break to be able to communicate better, you should still return to the discussion. If you envision the situation in a constructive light, with respect for one another and a willingness to understand the other person’s point of view, or at least find a solution, you will get closer to a solution or a resolution to the conflict. But don’t abandon the discussion unless it is time to break away from the ongoing relationship.

Know How to Ask for Help

If you can’t remain calm during a conflict, or the situation doesn’t improve, you should absolutely take advantage of help from an outsider. CRÉA advisors can help you with tips to communicate better with other members of your transfer team or with partners in your enterprise.

To learn more about CRÉA du Québec, its services and contact details, visit its website at www.lescrea.com

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