By Aaron Fernando
No matter who you are, conflict between people and interpersonal challenges will always be a part of life. Working through these issues by having challenging conversations may not seem like an exciting experience, but it is possible to turn interpersonal challenges into opportunities to move forward in a positive way. Here are a few tips on how to do just that.
1. USE I-STATEMENTS
This advice is often offered by therapists and marriage counselors but it is applicable to any conflict, including professional ones: use I-statements instead of you-statements. When addressing an issue, expressing how you feel with a sentence beginning in “I” or “I feel” will set you up for success in communicating a pain point.
For example, “You ruined our weekend plans” is phrased in a way that seems hostile and accusatory. The same message can be better conveyed by saying, “I felt upset and disappointed when you cancelled our weekend plans last minute.” This comes across as less aggressive and helps the listener understand your perspective. Because of this, the I-statement is likely to be well-received, significantly reducing the risk of escalating an already emotional conversation.
2. BE RESPECTFUL OF EMOTIONS, EVEN UNPLEASANT ONES
Although we like to place logic and reason on the highest pedestal in society, emotions are a significant and necessary part of the human experience. For those on either side of a conflict, emotions are usually grounded in some valid grievance of miscommunication.
When someone is upset, asking questions conveys concern and can calm the person. Questions like “How can I help?” or “Is there anything I can do?” not only convey empathy, but also can provide information about how to go about addressing the issue.
3. FRAME A PROBLEM AS A COLLABORATIVE CHALLENGE
Demanding that another person change their behavior can seem rigid or pushy, especially if you are unwilling to put in your own effort or change something. Though it can be hard to see (or admit), the best way to address an issue may require action on both sides.
Instead of offering demands, try framing problems as an opportunity to work together toward a better outcome. This approach not only addresses the current issue in a more effective way, but it also builds trust and a sense of togetherness for the future. According to Aristotle, “A common danger unites even the bitterest enemies,” and a common challenge can do exactly the same thing.
4. BE MINDFUL OF YOUR VOICE AND BODY LANGUAGE
If you are worked up and angry, the person you are talking to is more likely to get worked up and angry. But if you remain calm and composed, the person you are talking to you will also feel calmer, even if it takes some time. Though it can be difficult to slow down and breathe when dealing with emotional or high-stakes issues, the communication rewards are worth it. And as with anything, this gets easier with practice.
Maintaining positive body language alone has enormous effects on communication. This in itself can tip a conversation in the desired direction. People subconsciously mirror speech patterns, behavior, and body posture, so keeping an open body language will communicate all the correct nonverbal cues. If you have the luxury of doing so before a challenging conversation, take a moment to relax, become aware of your body, and breathe. The rewards are almost instantly noticeable and will allow you to start the conversation on the right foot.
Aaron Fernando is freelance writer with a passion for working on projects that strengthen communities and regions in innovative ways. He writes about local movements, new economy initiatives, and behavioral economics. Aaron grew up in the Valley, lives in Upstate New York, and can be reached at email@example.com.
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