C3 – Conflict Conscious Communication
For some time now, many of my blog posts have focused the features of effective communication. I’ve been systematically sharing “tips on improving your communication” when it involves an important issue or someone important to you, such as a boss or someone that you need to connect with positively. This article is related to my tips and adds some additional context to why I have spent so much focus in my blog posts on communication to build rapport and to avoid conflict. This post will set the stage for my final several posts on Tips for Improving Your Communication.
Throughout my career, I have worked in conflict resolution in one form or another – starting with much more positional and competitive work as an attorney in the corporate litigation department of a large law firm and gradually shifting to roles that involved less formality and more focus on conflict avoidance. Looking back on my career (to this point), I find that I have been drawn to increasingly informal processes. Admittedly, at points in the past, I found the formal, competitive, positional approaches to problem solving (such as active litigation work in a trial) exciting and stimulating, yet they were stressful and exhausting at the same time. And, although there have not always been clean breaks between career stages, generally my career progressed from formal to informal – litigator, to negotiator, to mediator, to ombudsman, and now, to organizational consultant. And yet, today, I find that there is still something missing.
I recently facilitated a two-day, advanced communication workshop for a professional association in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The participants seemed to really enjoy the program and the challenges of applying the latest brain and proven practical approaches to their work challenges. I, too, had fun facilitating the program. I say, “facilitating” rather than “instructing” or “teaching,” because I find that groups of seasoned professionals bring as much practical wisdom and experience to the program as I might as the single instructor. Thus, the programs are essentially workshops taught by the participants through the sharing processes and exercises as much as by me.
After the program, I reflected on “communication.” I pondered those things that make it effective and why it is important, and also why others seem to find it is important. As our society becomes increasingly interlinked and news travels faster – especially bad news, it seems that people crave more stability in their lives and in their connections. Yet, at the same time, the stress caused by the harried pace of our culture seems to prompt more violence and conflict. As a long-time professional in conflict resolution, I’ve concluded that a new paradigm for dealing with conflict is now required.
As an active member of the mediation and ombudsman communities, I read articles extolling the virtues of mediation and the ombudsman approach (along with other forms of informal resolution.) Yet, even as people in these professional communities extol the virtue of these models’ simplicity and informality, there is a drive to add more structure and formality to them. My business partner, Monique McKay, and I have shared perspectives about the state of the ADR (alternative dispute resolution) community, and our discussions have revealed that we both find something missing in today’s approaches options. As usual, my discussions with Monique helped me to gel my own thinking.
To me, all of the popular models of conflict resolution still require a person turn to an outsider when conflict builds to a point that we don’t feel that we can handle it. The ADR community devotes extensive energy to training people in conflict response and yet it pays very little attention to teaching people skills to proactively connect with people to avoid conflict in the first place. As a member of the ADR community, it seems to me that we have not focused on sharing the skills and knowledge relevant to empowering people to build better communication and conflict avoidance skills so that the chances of conflict are reduced and reliance on a third party is not required. Essentially, I believe that what I am talking about in the conflict arena is the realization of the concept of “teaching the person to fish, rather than giving them a fish.” If we focus on providing the skills to empower people to be more aware and capable of achieving rapport and being sensitive to the common triggers of conflict, they will be more capable of avoiding conflict or, if it begins to surface, to making early adjustments in their communication so that it does not get out of hand. If we are effective in this approach, we can reduce our reliance on third party involvement in our issues with others.
With this in mind, through our organization and our training approaches we are launching a new thrust in conflict training and focus, which, for now at least, I am calling “Conflict Conscious Communication.” Conflict Conscious Communication, or “C3” for short, involves the following attributes:
- A keen awareness, respect, and appreciation of the communication and learning styles of the others with whom we have important conversations and interactions;
- A sensitivity to the needs and interests of others with whom we work and communicate;
- Applying the skills necessary to translate our communication styles into styles that bridge the differences in styles and approaches with the others with whom we are communicating;
- A willingness to openly share our needs and expectations, while also affording others a fair and safe opportunity to do the same;
- Committing to genuine and honest dialogue and an openness to being influenced by others with whom we interact;
- The ability to suspend judgment of the other and to seek deep understanding of where they are coming from and the needs and interests they seek to protect or fulfill; and,
- The confidence to share our own needs in a respectful-yet-appropriately assertive manner.
Effective Conflict Conscious Communication allows us to reduce the incidents of conflict in our lives; reducing stress and improving our overall effectiveness and well being. When effectively practiced, it frees us from reliance on others to resolve our issues or help us resolve our issues – others whose skills may or may not be up to the task of unraveling the issues we create and who often introduce other variables into the situation. It allows us to build partnerships, trust, and relationships we might not even think about otherwise, and to openly seek to meet our needs and interests while respecting those of others.
I accept that we can never completely eliminate all conflict from our lives and there will undoubtedly still be plenty of occasions when we will need the help of a dispassionate third party. Professionals in dispute resolution need never fear that their roles will become entirely obsolete. However, empowering more conflict-aware communication and shifting the paradigm from one that focuses only on our own needs and communication style, I believe that we could make a significant difference. When we learn effective “C3”, it can allow us to maintain even more control over our personal destiny and greatly improve the flow of our lives.
© Bruce J. MacAllister, November 2013, all rights reserved