Comprehensive Community Initiatives: Words Not Whacks

You’ve had it! You’ve tried your best to remain calm and reasonable in a conflict, but your last nerve has been plucked. What now?

WAIT. Press the pause button. Anger and rational problem-solving mix like oil and water. Take the time, if only a moment of deep breathing, to regain composure. Or, you can take the time later to clean up the mess you’ve made as a result of destructive actions that may have caused long-term bad feelings.

ORGANIZE. Organize your thoughts. Ask yourself: What’s really bothering me about this situation? What am I trying to achieve? How can I make it easy for the other person to give me what I need? What do I want my relationship with the other person to be after the conflict is over? What model of conflict management will I use to work through the issue?

RESTATE AND REFLECT. Now that you have calmed down a bit and thought about the situation, try stating your concerns again. Speak slowly, clearly, and use easy to understand words. Rather than using words that state your position, such as “Don’t touch anything on my desk,” use words that state your interests, such as “I’m concerned that I won’t be able to find the things I need to do my work when I need them if you take them without asking my permission.” Use the active listening skill of paraphrasing to reflect the content and feelings of the other person’s message. This tells them you understand the point they are making. You can usually get more by first seeking to understand rather than to be understood.

DECREASE DEFENSIVENESS. Use “I” statements. For instance, say “I feel angry when you promise something that you don’t deliver because I believe that a promise is sacred and shouldn’t be taken lightly.” “I” statements keep the focus on you, not the other person. You accept responsibility for how you feel and what you want to do about it. “I” statements are easier to accept because they are specific and non-judgmental, rather than blameful and vague.

STRESS AGREEMENT. Find common ground and build on it. You may be shocked to discover similarities in perspective and values between you and the other person. The key to stressing agreement is using good communication skills, focusing on underlying interests, developing options, and selecting mutually acceptable solutions to implement.


Bill Link is senior consultant with the Management Assistance Group.
Rennie Saunders is the president of Human Resource Consulting and Training.


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