Monday, February 9, 2009


As transients on this earth, we all have to communicate with one another, with some who are easy to handle and sometimes with others who may be more difficult. What is it that makes someone difficult? Why do some people push our buttons more than others? And how can we handle them in a way that feels better, reduces conflict, and produces the outcome we want?

There is an important thing to consider. Throughout my dealings with people, I have learnt and am still learning to be careful with what I say. Often, I ask myself - "Is what I'm, doing or saying contributing to the difficulty?"Taking responsibility--for ourselves and for the way we communicate--is an important step to reducing conflict.

Here are some key tips.

1. Are they truly difficult or just different from us?
Sometimes when people have different ways of handling things than we do, we label them as difficult. Responding with an approach of "that's interesting" instead of concluding that they're "wrong" or "annoying" can help us find value in the differences. Lately, I realize that I may learn something new about myself or about them even if I may feel indignant at the beginning of the conflict.

2. Mirror, mirror...
Often we react because the other person reflects something in ourselves that we don't like... or don't want to look at. It helps to first take an honest look at ourselves. We might ask ourselves, "Is there any part of me that is like her? Is there something I'm seeing in her that I find distasteful in myself? Maybe I need to have more acceptance and compassion for myself."

3. Be aware that there are different styles.
People have natural differences in their behavioral styles. Some people's styles are brief and to the point. They are more task-oriented. Other people are more talkative and social and place a higher emphasis on relationships. Then there are people who tend to be more analytical. They focus on analysis, data, and order. Still others place a high priority on steadiness and security. If you communicate in a way that mirrors a person's style, you will be speaking his or her language. This builds rapport quickly, and we are very likely to have a successful communication--and less conflict.

4. Actively listen.
Give the person our full attention. It's easy to miss things he or she is saying when we react emotionally. In this busy world, most of us listen while we are "multitasking." I have made many mistakes in my life but some of the lessons I have learnt include the following:

* Put ourselves in the person's shoes as best we can to empathize with him/her.
* Ask questions to clarify.
* Summarize or paraphrase--restate in your own words--what he or she has said.
* Finally, acknowledge the person's point of view, even if you don't agree. For example, you might say, "It seems that this is very important to you" or "I can hear that you're angry about this." While you're listening, keep the focus on him or her, rather than bringing it back to you. Ask yourself, "Am I really listening or just waiting for my turn to speak?"

One important principle in listening is that we must not ask too many questions lest we sound like busybodies. If someone wants to tell us something, he/she will do so in good time and we need not rush. Should we be impatient to know the truth, it is better to ask the questions inconspicuously to avoid further conflict.

5. Notice when our emotional "buttons" get pushed.
Take responsibility for our reactions; after all, a person may have pushed our buttons, but then again, he probably didn't install them ;). From my experience, in such situations, I take a break or walk away until I am less reactive. Interacting when emotions are high can be risky. Taking deep breaths or doing some other physical exercise can help to blow off steam. At my age, I cannot afford the 'excitement' of an argument as it sets off palpitations that make me giddy! Thus, for my own sanity, I try to defuse the situation in different ways.

6. I must watch my "yes... buts."
In my classes, I used "but" (or "however") after supposedly agreeing with someone ("I understand, but...") or after giving him a compliment ("You did a great job, but...") jokingly but I had to be very careful because I realized then and even now that in doing so, I am really dismissing or devaluing what the person has said or done and may hurt the person. Having said that, I always tell them that I am correcting the fault in the answer and not the person. Yet, after many mistakes, I realize that I should instead, use the "yes... and" approach. For example, say "I understand your perspective, and I'd like to share mine with you."

7. Use "I" statements.
"You" statements tend to create defensive reactions. For example, instead of "you're always late," say "I need for you to be on time." "I" statements are more powerful and productive. Be careful about "you" statements in disguise. "I think you're a jerk" is not an "I" statement.

8. I have learnt to be aware of my body language and voice.
When I was teaching Business Communication for many years, I used to reiterate the fact that so much of what we say is communicated through our body language and our voices. They speak a language all their own. It's often not what we say; it's how we say it. If our body language is closed (for example, arms and legs crossed), we are sending a strong message that we are closed off. Even though we may be comfortable in that position, it's important to be aware that we're sending a message--a strong message. Open body language sends an important message about our receptivity. Keeping our arms unfolded and open gestures are examples of using open body language.

As a mother, I made a lot of mistakes in the way I communicated with my older boy until he said one day, "Mom, I think you need to attend a course in communicating with teens." I was stunned and began to evaluate how I had been communicating with him. Naturally I was indignant at first for I proclaimed that I did not raise my voice etc but the rebuttal was ...oh but your tone of voice or your facial expression speaks volumes. Then I realized not too late that my tonal expression added to the conflict. Sometimes, we may not realize how terse, edgy or irritated we could sound to others. A good way is to try listening to ourselves on an audiotape or voice mail. It can be helpful and enlightening!

Ironically, I learnt the value of body language in relationships in the comfort of my own home even though I lectured about it for years! Then again, we are never too old to learn and I am sharing this with you all from the bottom of my heart in humility and sincerity. Thanks to wisdom and God, I have good communication channel now with my older boy.

For the general population in this country, if we don't look someone directly in the eye, there's a perception that we are hiding something or being less than truthful. Eye communication, such as rolling your eyes (in disgust, for example), also can speak volumes.

9. Focus on and state the positives!
When frustrated or irritated, so much of what gets said is negative. For example, instead of "why don't you ever clean your room," I learnt to say "I really love it when your room is clean!" When you ask for a positive outcome, you are much more likely to have success.

Communication is so important in our lives especially when we communicate with our loved ones. Let's put our best foot forward and instead of putting it in our mouth!

No comments: