Asking the Right Questions

It is natural for people to get defensive when they are in conflict. In this post, I’d like to suggest some other approaches that are more beneficial and may produce a better outcome. Rather than engaging in defensive communication, try the following: stay centered, breathe deeply, stay positive, listen to what the other person is saying, and ask questions. Asking questions, a big part of a mediator’s job, accomplishes several objectives. First, it allows the other person to feel as if they are being heard. Second, it enables both parties to start to uncover the source of the dispute. Third, the emotion underlying the conflict is likely to be expressed. Finally, it starts the trust building process.

You also start to get to the heart of the conflict by asking questions. Anger and defensiveness are usually masking a deeper emotion, and the real problem causing someone to be argumentative. Questions asked in a calm and conversational manner may also help the other person relax and shift out of utilizing defensive or aggressive behaviors.

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Objectivity, Subjectivity, and the Known Unknowns: Intentions vs. Assumptions in Conflict Resolution

In my last post I wrote about asking, and the important role questions play in creating possibility for conflict resolution. Today is an exploration of important areas of objective and subjective inquiry.

Perhaps we’re all familiar with the analytical equation: in life we have our ‘knowns’ and our ‘unknowns.’ Both can then, in turn, be known or unknown. There are things we are aware that we know (known knowns) and things we know, but not consciously (unknown knowns). Then there are things we know that we don’t know (known unknowns) and things we don’t realize we don’t know (unknown unknowns). In conflict, it’s the unknowns that often trip us up, and the last category – the things we don’t even realize we don’t know – that can be the most insidious. [Read more…]

Mediation & the Art of Asking

Asking makes us vulnerable

Musician Amanda Palmer, with her intense arching eyebrows and alt-rock style, incited the audience of her viral TED video to get out there and ask for what they needed. A donation. A couch to sleep on.  A little help to get from one spot on their journey to the next. People are afraid to ask for what they need, she explains, afraid of being that person who burdens those around them with uncomfortable requests. Fear not! argues Palmer enthusiastically. On the contrary: asking is liberating.“By asking you connect with people. And when you connect with people they want to help you. Asking makes you vulnerable.” [Read more…]

Thumb Wars: Y text conflict gets us nowhere

Newsletter Edition:  January 2016

I recently watched my son and his cousin argue with each other in a furious exchange of texts – and I thought to myself how unsuited this medium is for conflict resolution. This month’s newsletter is a reflection on how our mediums change our messages – and how texting might threaten more than it promises when it comes to dealing with conflict.

 


texting1

What are we really getting – and missing – when we carry out conflicts through texts?

Texting, though a popular and increasingly automatic habit for all kinds of communications, appears to have more likelihood of creating conflict than resolving it, due to its built-in one dimensional nature. Productive conflict – conflict that gets us somewhere, brings something to light, produces changed perspective or altered behavior  – involves a whole host of processes, only a few of which involve the literal exchange of words that could be translated into a text message. Read on to reflect on how we ended up ‘duking it out’ with our thumbs, and how the medium of texting changes our attempts to communicate. [Read more…]

Appreciating Anger, part III

Part III: Anger in Conflict Resolution

In my last post in this series on anger, I’ll focus on the implications of the anger research from my last two pieces (part I, part II) on conflict resolution.

As I touched on in my first piece, it can be tempting to associate nonviolent communication methods with denying our feelings of anger, or denying ourselves any way of expressing those feelings. But anger can communicate much more than the desire to hurt another person. Greek philosopher Aristotle thought that a certain appropriate level of anger – directed at the right things and at the right time – was an element of virtuosity. For Aristotle proper anger was a way of expressing self respect, and also an attunement to injustice. [Read more…]

Appreciating Anger, part II

Part II: When does anger work?

In my last post I wrote about anger’s “good side,” and the importance of appreciating its importance, but I left off with a warning: we need to develop a thoughtful and wise relationship with anger in order for it to play a positive role.

In his New York Times Sunday Review piece, “The Rationality of Rage,” Matthew Hutson explores a range of social, psychological, and behavioral research regarding the positive and negative ways that expressions of anger tend to manifest in different scenarios. [Read more…]

Appreciating Anger, part I

Part I : Anger’s Good Side

In many of my posts and tips as a mediator, I emphasize the use of mindful dialogue strategies, nonviolent communication, and reflection over reactions. These are some of the core cognitive tools that inform the practice and philosophy of mediation, and thus I write frequently about honing them for the purpose of developing better intentional practices in mediation, leadership, and communication.

I have also acknowledged the importance of emotion in conflict regarding, for example, analytical frameworks for understanding conflict, or the multiple dimensions of resolution.  However, one emotion that can often go unacknowledged – and unappreciated – is anger. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part iii: Strategies for Intercultural Communication

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

In my last two posts I began to explore the challenge of intercultural communication, and its immense relevance, given current issues in the world today. This week, my last post in this series, I’ll outline a few strategies for approaching communications with someone who doesn’t share your own cultural context.

Culture & Communication: What’s the big deal?

Barring language differences, most of us take the process of basic daily communications for granted. The way we greet one another, ask about a bus seat, or navigate an exchange of goods. If we take a slightly closer look, we realize that there’s much more going on than we’re normally aware of. This can give us clues into what might sometimes go wrong. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part II: Exploring Intercultural Communications

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

Last week I introduced this short series of posts I’m doing related to intercultural communications, given the world’s immense preoccupation with migrant crises in both Europe and South and Central America.

First, we must stress the urgency of sorting out intercultural communication challenges in the face of a situation such as this.  As Bradford J Hall writes, “Misunderstandings all too easily leads to distrusting and hating other communities, which creates cycles of emotional, social, economic, and physical violence that injure the quality of life for us all.”[1] The migrant crisis is already a major logistical and political challenge without adding an unnecessary layer of disputes based on confusion. [Read more…]

Misunderstanding Migrants, Part I

Note: I researched and wrote this series of pieces before the attacks in Paris and Beirut, and the various subsequent reactions. These tragedies, while they change the present context and challenges of intercultural communication, only make this issue more urgent. In the face of frightened reactions, it is of the utmost importance that we maintain the human face of the other, that we make careful distinctions between those who commit violence and those who do not, that we communicate in mindful solidarity with all nonviolent peoples across racial, ethnic, national, and religious difference. It is for this reason that I elected not to edit or rewrite these pieces following the attacks. Every attempt to understand and reach out to others in times of upheaval, dislocation, and fear is an essential expression of common humanity; such expressions can change and unite lives in difficult and uncertain times. These posts were written to aid people in thinking through that challenge; and that is still what they are about. 

During the past few months we have all been hearing a great deal about the refugee/migrant crisis in Europe. For many of us, this situation is in reality far away, abstract, hard to imagine. But with all the media coverage – and now the recent wave of terrorist attacks – it sounds a little frightening, and perhaps we find ourselves chewing on uncomfortable questions: given all the upheaval in the world, will our communities at some point face a similar situation? What is the right thing to do when a large group of people, needing and deserving of basic needs, arrive on our doorsteps? How should differences be accommodated or addressed? [Read more…]