Managing Conflict With Effective Communication

Meg Buck Blog 0 Comments

I believe passionately that honest, open, effective communication can resolve, or at the very least diminish, any conflict. It is truly amazing how quickly frustration or even anger can dissipate when one’s communication skills are put to good use.

I suggest that there are six rules of communication that, when followed, provide the infrastructure for a productive conversation, even on the hottest of hot topics.

  •  Give up the attitude of “being right”.
  • Listen.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s opinion as valid.
  • State your argument without invalidating the other person’s argument.
  • Notice and draw attention to areas of agreement.
  • Focus on finding a solution.

I provide for you an example…

You may or may not be aware that there is an ongoing debate between cyclists and motorists about who belongs in the road, where, when, how, and why. Typically, cyclists want motorists to understand just how much of a threat a motorized vehicle poses to a person on a bicycle, and to give cyclists enough room on the road for everyone to travel safely. Some motorists just want cyclists off of the road; i.e. they’re a hazard to everyone, they run lights, they slow traffic, etc.

Both perspectives have valid points.

One day not long ago, I got into a debate with a woman over this very topic. She’s a motorist. I’m a bike commuter and bicycle educator. We both came to the conversation from very different points of view, with about equivalent passion about our positions.

This woman’s point of view was “that way too many [bicyclists] seem to think that because they are on a bike they don’t have to stop at red lights or they assume that someone in a car won’t run them down when they pull out in front of them at a crosswalk, or when a driver is turning at a red light.” Her frustration led her to exclaim that she would only provide certain courtesies to cyclists “when cyclists begin following the rules of the road as they are supposed to do.”

Initially I took her frustration with cyclists in general as a personal attack and shot back at her that “to suggest that [she] shouldn’t have to take precautions to do no harm unless some cyclists change their behavior is an irresponsible response.”

Obviously, our preliminary conversation wasn’t going anywhere useful or helpful in alleviating frustrations on either side. I quickly got clear that this conversation was an opportunity to abate this woman’s aversion to cyclists. First, I set aside my own frustrations with motorists as to avoid taking them out on her. Once I got my attitude out of the way, I could really pay attention to what she was saying. Staunchly being right about a cyclist’s right to the road was going to get me nowhere fast.

Already, without further conversation I managed to:

  • Give up the attitude of “being right”.
  • Acknowledge the other person’s opinion as valid.
  • Focus on finding a solution.

Three down. Three to go.

  • Listen.
  • State your argument without invalidating the other person’s argument.
  • Notice and draw attention to areas of agreement.

I became willing to see the crux of her argument: I have the experience that cyclists are hazardous in general because I see so many hazardous cyclists. It makes me nervous and frustrated to travel the road with people who seem inconsiderate and arrogant or demanding.

I got her frustrations with some cyclists. I communicated my own frustrations with cyclists. I see people on bikes breaking the law all the time. As a bicycle educator I want to correct every misdemeanor I see! There absolutely are hazardous cyclists on the road. I drew the woman’s attention to the cyclists who do follow traffic laws. I pointed out that generalizing cyclists as hazardous or arrogant actually creates the experience that cyclists are hazardous and arrogant, and that it’s easy to focus on negative experiences.

She ended up apologizing for her initial attitude (as did I). She acknowledged my commitment to education, and my equally frustrated point of view that cars are hazardous to cyclists, that courtesy and patience are not unreasonable requests for law-abiding cyclists to make. She even admitted to being excited about the changes her city has been making to its infrastructure to make cycling safer for everyone.

You see, we could have easily remained in the ongoing debate and just left the conversation being perhaps more frustrated than when we began, having acquired further evidence that our individual points of view were the right ones. Instead, we came together through understanding and commonality; finding just one point on which we could agree allowed us to find further agreement and affinity for each other’s experience.

Conflict happens. Opinions clash. Personalities clash. Commitments clash.

Be willing to take a step back. Give up the attitude of “being right”. Listen. Acknowledge the other person’s opinion as valid. State your argument without invalidating the other person’s argument. Notice and draw attention to areas of agreement. Focus on finding a solution. The solution will come, if you let it.

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