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Don't Get Mad, Get Understood: Communication and Conflict Resolution
by Andrew E. Schwartz

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Our society has become increasingly fast-paced and competitive. In an environment where winning a personal contest is rewarded more consistently than solving a group problem, it is no surprise that we have developed an infinite capacity for miscommunication. Sometimes deliberate misunderstanding is a method of increasing personal prestige and power, but the conflicts that arise can cripple a situation and almost work to the detriment of the organization. When such conflicts are present, productivity can slip since workers are far less likely to function together, and no conflict exists in a vacuum. The best course to take is to try to head off miscommunication and misunderstanding before they blossom into conflicts. Obviate conflicts as they occur by training people to find root causes and listen to each other. Engage in “real communication,” not verbiage. Real communication takes place when we do not judge, evaluate, approve, or disapprove before we truly understand the other person.

Watch for breakdowns in communication. We tend to evaluate a situation primarily and initially from our own personal bias, thus laying the first bricks of our interpersonal barriers. When we avoid this evaluative tendency and listen with understanding we are “actively” listening. Active listening is seeing ideas and attitudes from the other peoples’ points of view, and temporarily achieving their frame of reference to the subject.

If you think this is an easy process, reevaluate! True objectivity demands an observer with no opinions. The best, most realistic, and profitable actions we can take are those which force us to temporarily change sides, not those that make us pretend an objectivity that cannot exist.

Break the conflict pattern by changing the rules. Have you ever considered your actual level of understanding? Try the following as a reality test. Next time you find yourself in an escalating argument, stop and institute a rule formulated by Carl Rogers: “Each person can speak for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feeling of the previous speaker accurately — and to that person’s satisfaction.”


Andrew E. Schwartz, CEO, A.E. Schwartz & Associates of Boston, MA a comprehensive management training and professional development organization offering over 40 skills specific programs and practical solutions to today's business challenges.

Copyright, AE Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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