Thumb Wars, Part 2: Messaging is Terrible for Arguments

text messaging; online messaging; arguments

Texting, online messaging, and other similar forms of communication have grown exponentially in recent years. While messaging apps and text messages may bring some people closer together and lead to more frequent communication, they are devoid of communication clues, such as verbal inflections, body language and tone of voice, that help give context to our statements. This kind of communication is one-dimensional and rigid. Misunderstandings and miscommunication are far more likely to occur than in face-to-face or phone conversations. This article discusses the growth of conflict with the rise in messaging as a major form of communication.

Text Message Explosion

In a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, 72% of American adults owned smartphones. Of those surveyed in the study, 42% of smartphone users utilized a general messaging app to send or receive messages. In April of 2017, Facebook’s Messenger app surpassed 1.2 billion monthly users worldwide. That is a phenomenal amount of typed or texted messages whirling around cyberspace. In addition, according to The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, text message users send and receive 41.5 messages per day on average, with 18- to 24-year-olds at a much higher average of 109.5 messages per day – that’s 3,200 texts per month! Roughly 31% of participants in Pew’s survey prefer to communicate via text rather than to be called on the phone. This medium has become a staple of everyday communication, and it is only natural that conflict and disagreements would creep into the texting world.

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The Trouble with Bubbles

This month I’m delighted to feature a guest article from my longtime colleague, Carolyn Parr. Carolyn has graciously agreed to let us post her newsletter article here. To learn more about Carolyn, click here.

These days we hear a lot about people living in ‘bubbles.’ In mediation I often encounter parties whose positions are encased in a bubble, reinforced by an interior monologue that strengthens their conviction that they are right and the opposing party is wrong. In time it’s possible to pierce these bubbles and engage in conversations about mutual concerns and interests they share with the other party.

In politics, bubbles have taken a more sinister significance. Living just 12 blocks from the U.S. Capitol, I’m sure many think I not only live in a bubble, but in ‘The Swamp’ as well.

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The Importance of Nonverbal Communication

This election season, especially the Presidential debates, has displayed many examples of the use of nonverbal body language in communication.

In many cases, body language is more important and conveys more information than verbal communication. Last month I wrote about the nonverbal vocal elements of body language: volume, pitch, inflection. This article will focus on other nonverbal aspects of body language.

One of the most common sources of conflict is misinterpretation of  communication.  Tone of voice and body language make up 93% of human communication.  While some people are unconsciously adept at reading nonverbal cues, many are not.  When your nonverbal cues don’t match with what you’re saying, you are likely to find yourself experiencing interpersonal conflict with others.

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Reactive Behaviors

What is reactivity anyway? We react to things day in and day out: to what’s going on in our daily lives, to the actions of others, to some news we receive. Don’t we have to react and respond to the world around us? So what is this risky category of ‘reactive behavior’?

Michael Williams devotes his blog ‘Agency‘ to practical and theoretical aspects of reactivity, with the intention of enabling readers to “act [more deliberately and consciously] in situations marked by confusion, anger, and shame.We previously wrote about his approach in June 2016.  Williams gives us some direction in exploring these questions.

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Tone of Voice in the Workplace


Hope you have had a safe and relaxing summer.

I write an awful lot about what we say to one another, and how it does or does not serve us in our relationships or in conflict scenarios. It behooves us, however, to remember the striking fact that only around 7% of our communication is based solely on the words we use.[1] This doesn’t mean our words don’t matter, but it does mean that when it comes down to what ultimately gets understood in a communicative event, nonverbal cues can be the determining factor. This is as true in the workplace as it is in your personal life.

Today, communication in the workplace is a major determinant of career success – which we now know is about much more than what we say around the office. This article kicks off a series on nonverbal communication in the workplace, beginning with an important topic I’ve written only briefly about before: tone of voice in the workplace.


The human voice communicates a great deal more than the literal content of its linguistic message. Tone of voice constitutes 38% of our communication. In fact, a great deal of meaning would generally be lost from a message if you removed the vocal component. Think of how ridiculous and funny it sounds when a recorded, robotic voice repeats a normal human sentence: the content is there, but it doesn’t really seem to mean anything.

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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.



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…]

Your Mind’s Secret Skew: Exploring Implicit Bias


I hope you’ve had a wonderful summer, and found some time to relax with your friends or family in the sun and heat. As we turn the corner into autumn, it’s time to recalibrate to new rhythms and schedules, and maybe new projects, ideas, or colleagues.

Perhaps this shift is a good time to reflect for a moment and consider the hidden biases that we all carry with us in our interactions with the people we encounter in our lives. Harvard research from the past decade has revealed that the vast majority of us see people through lenses of prejudice or bias that we don’t consciously recognize. Even more befuddling, it appears most of us can’t necessarily predict our own biases when we try. This newsletter explores the concept of implicit bias, what we can do to counteract it, and what it means for mediation.


Many of us are aware of the destructive patterns of bias and discrimination that we have inherited from earlier configurations of this society. And on a broad spectrum, many of us have every genuine intention of disengaging from those destructive behaviors and building an increasingly egalitarian world. But in their book Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin Banaji of Harvard and Anthony Greenwald of the University of Washington are telling us that those good intentions may not be enough. Not enough, anyway, to upset the staying power of this persistent hangover of institutionalized discrimination and prejudice that seems to plague our society. That, it seems, will take some more intentional effort. [Read more…]

The Voices in Your Head: Negative Energy & Self Talk

Ding! A memo or a piece of work news pops into your inbox just as you settle into your chair and pick up that steaming cup of morning office coffee. You click, then stop short. Your mug hangs mid-air between desk and lips as you register the update which, it turns out, is not so pleasant. Someone else got that promotion. Someone screwed up a task or a project. Someone turned down your proposal, your offer, your application. Someone sent a poorly worded message to the wrong person, excluded you in the planning stage, or blamed you for something that wasn’t your responsibility. Before you’ve recovered yourself and downed a hasty gulp of coffee, twenty questions and potential conclusions have run through your mind. Who made what decision? Where did this go wrong and why? What were the intentions here? By the third gulp a name or two is swirling angrily in your head. Your work plan for the day starts to feel like a distant memory, and before you know it an hour or two passes in which you’ve accomplished only a task or two in between your fitful mulling. As you mull, a story takes shape in your head about what really happened. Perhaps you’ve even snatched that coffee off your desk and jumped out of your chair, striding angrily down the hall in search of the office of your chosen culprit – and your workday is history. We’ve all been there.

Most of the conflict I deal with in my work is interpersonal, maybe even intergroup, but sometimes it’s the conversations with ourselves that have the biggest impact on our interactions at home or in the workplace. In his Corner Office column at the New York Times, Adam Bryant published an interview with Carl Galioto, managing principal of the New York office of architecture and engineering firm HOK, and probed Galioto’s insights about leadership and his own successes. In the interview Galioto highlighted the importance of “sweeping away” negative energy that can crop up in challenging work scenarios. What we decide to tell ourselves about a situation or a challenge can have an immense effect on how we respond, and on how the situation ends up ultimately affecting us. When it comes to conflict, self-talk can be the difference between explosion, negotiation or resolution. Read on for a few helpful strategies for dealing with negativity, and using self-talk to your advantage.  [Read more…]

Trust: Foundations for Peace

Trust is a fundamental part of all relationships. While we often have a basic understanding of how trust is vital in very close and personal scenarios, we may not be fully aware of the constant role it plays in daily functional exchanges. Trust can be pivotal to successful negotiations, collaborations, or conflict management. A more complete awareness of trust may aid us in understanding how relationships of all kinds can be geared towards more positivity and cooperation.

Types of Trust

In her book The Mind and Heart of the Negotiator, Leigh L. Thompson[1] describes three types of trust, and ways we can be mindful about how it is both built and broken.

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