Conflict and Words

Words have power! Harsh words like stupid, dumb, fat, and skinny can take away power. You’ve probably heard words like these at some time in your life, you may have even been the one who said them. As a society we don’t really learn about the power of words in a formal sense, it is usually something learned (notice I said learned not taught) in childhood. Parents and teachers cautioned us with “Don’t say that” or “Say you’re sorry!” (our first experience in mediation) but as kids, those apologies were often accompanied with a grimace or hand gesture that said we really didn’t mean we were sorry.

As teenagers, then adults the power of words becomes more important as we learn about relationships. Words can give power like “I really like you” or “you look nice today” or whatever the popular words are. We learn to use the power of words to establish and further our relationships with friends or the opposite sex and in our business life. We also learn the power of words doesn’t always work when something doesn’t’ go well in the relationship, “I’m sorry” alone doesn’t always make up for a perceived hurt or a mistake we make.

In the workplace where we have a wide range of coworkers and customers to deal we find a mine field of personalities, cultures and people with their own set of baggage that can trip us up with the wrongly uttered word, gesture or behavior. In our daily lives in Las Vegas we also find a wide range of cultures so be aware of what message you give others.

So what can we do with a skill set that was never taught? How do we use the power of words when disagreements or conflicts occur? When possible, take a minute and step back to look at the other person involved in the dispute. What do you know about them, what things do you have in common, are you really interested in finding a solution to your disagreement? If you are, you may need to look at the words you use when you talk to them.

In the book “Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life” author Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. suggests we observe a situation without evaluating and try to identify the issue without the emotion. He recommends using clear, non-judgmental statements to communicate. For example, instead of making a judgment statement “You seldom do what I want”, you could make a statement of observation “The last three times I initiated an activity, you said you didn’t want to do it”. Or “Hank is a poor soccer player” could be changed to “Hank hasn’t scored a goal in twenty games”. The perception that you are judging someone can set up barriers that are hard to overcome but making a statement of observation can set up an opportunity for discussion.

In the book “Getting to Yes” by Roger Fisher and William Ury, the authors suggest you separate the people from the problem. Focus on what your ultimate goal is and prepare your best options for a solution to present to the other party.

At the end of the day, when you walk away from someone, have you worked toward a resolution to your conflict, or made it worse? Conflict resolution is not always easy but whether it is business or personal, you can choose to work toward a solution or not. If you are unable to resolve your conflict the options are ignore it, litigate it or use mediation.

Hopefully, as you begin to pay attention to the power of the words you use, you will be able to communicate without conflict.

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