Tuesday, 06 December 2011
Two of the largest aspects of my job here at Transitional Youth is practicing and teaching good communication and conflict resolution skills. Since coming on board over two years ago I've changed in how I communicate with people. I can debate and work through conflicts/disagreements far better now than before I worked here. I'm far better at these skills than I was even a year ago. I often see people trying to have a debate or discussion on Xanga and notice how they aren't helping their cause due to poor communication skills so I decided to write about a couple characteristics of healthy communication and conflict resolution for anyone who is interested.
Pitching and Receiving
In every healthy interaction there needs to be a catcher and a pitcher. Other terms we use for these positions are encoder and decoder. Our tagline for this is "Know Your Role!" The pitcher/encoder is the person speaking. They are heading up the discussion at the moment. This person is sending a message that they want someone else to receive and receive fully. The other person is catching/decoding. They are working hard to receive and understand what is being said. Making sense of what has come their direction from the encoder/pitcher is their role at the moment. This often consists of something called "active listening." Everyone wants to be heard so active listening requires serious attention. Signs of a healthy active listener:
- Showing the speaker that you are paying attention and trekking with them by saying things such as "Yeah", "okay", "uh huh", "Right", "Oh I see", and so on without disrupting the flow. While this is often employed by people who don't pay attention, eye contact and facial expressions can help communicate serious listening. This can be difficult online. Sometimes it's best to say encouraging things between messages to get this message across.
- Paraphrasing what the pitcher has thrown your way. If you are listening well you can repeat what the encoder has communicated with similar words back to them. If you can communicate their message in a way they approve of then you've successfully decoded. If your paraphrasing isn't accurate then you ask them to "please explain that to me again so I can get a better idea of what you're trying to say?" Paraphrasing in this context is essentially saying to the pitcher "It sounds like you're saying 'suchandsuch blah blah blah suchitysuchsuch', is that about right?" You're putting their message in your language without compromising what they truly mean. They'll let you know if you're hitting the mark or not. Paraphrasing is HUGE!
- Probing during the discussion. Aside from often stopping the conversation momentarily to make sure you are up to speed via paraphrasing it is good to stop the conversation at points and ask open ended questions for clarification. Yes and no questions can be helpful but it's usually best to use questions that force the pitcher to give a fuller explanation of their message. In debate this may look like asking for the support for a specific point of an argument. "How do you back that up?" Why and how questions are good for this.
In a healthy interaction there will be a switching of roles from time to time. Both people involved will ask and answer questions, allowing ample time for the other to answer and explain. Both people will make attempts to convey what they believe the other person is trying to communicate so that there is no miscommunication. When both people are pitching nothing is truly received. Talking at one another is not helpful. Talking with one another is very helpful. Good conversation is like a game of catch. Conversations are not meant to be one sided. Ask and answer questions. Make your points known and let the other person know their points are known. The goal should be for everyone to move forward and that takes teamwork.
Checking the Temperature
My boss likes to call this the Goldilocks Rule but I prefer the temperature perspective. They are the same thing so it doesn't really matter. In every interaction, especially disagreements, debates, and conflicts, there is a temperature. Sometimes the temperature is comfortable and everyone is happy. Sometimes the temperature changes and things got pretty hot and as a result someone operating at a high temperature can't go any further in the interaction without first cooling down. For those interesting in the Goldilocks version, you have to check what bowl of porridge is being consumed. Are things too cold in the interaction and nobody is engaging? Is the porridge too hot and leaving people with burned tongues and frustration? Hopefully the porridge is just right and both people are actively engaging one another without things getting too heated or out of control. Checking the temperature simply means keeping an eye on how the person you're interacting with is feeling. If they feel attacked, angry, hurt, or are showing signs of discomfort it may be time to step back and let them cool down. If it looks like they are comfortable and can handle more of the discussion then feel free to keep it going! Basically, be concerned for and aware of the person you're interacting with so you don't burn the bridge. If you know your own temperature is rising then it may be best to politely step away for a while.
Of course, this can be difficult online since there is no voice tone or body language to observe. However, people can give hints through what they write. A lot of CAPS or exclamation marks (!) can indicate a high temperature. Short answers can indicate a cold temperature. Personalizing the issue is often a sign of the temperature rising and personal attacks are a sure sign that the porridge is too hot. Being aware of the other person's feelings proves that one has a goal of genuine conversation and relationship as opposed to simply winning or being right.
There are a few Proberbs from scripture that I think are helpful in this arena.
- A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions (18:2).
- He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame (18:13).
- Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone (25:15).
- Mockers stir up a city, but wise men turn away anger (29:8).
- Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him (29:20).
At the end of the day, if we can treat others the way we wish to be treated in interactions then things have a better chance of going well.
What was helpful for you to read here, if anything? What tips do you have for communicating or working through debate/disagreements well?