As I was looking through some of my favorite blogs this evening, I found this post by Tammy Lenski – 7 phrases you can't say in conflict resolution. In her post, Tammy lists some of the communication errors we often encounter in the process of resolving conflict. I read and enjoyed Tammy's post, and then a thought hit me. Six of the seven blunder's shift blame and minimize personal responsibility.
The original post contained great content, and I certainly don't want to minimize Tammy's work. That being said, here are some amplifying thoughts on the six points that struck me.
- “Don't take it personally.” This statement subtly implies that the other person's emotions have no merit. It says that they should listen to our frustrations, fears, and concerns without having any of their own.
- “He’s a difficult person.” This simple statement makes the conflict entirely the other person's fault. It shifts blame without regard to what we might have done to encourage the other person to become “difficult.”
- “She can’t handle change.” Another blame shifting statement. With a few words, we can make the conflict the other person's fault without acknowledging that we may be moving too quickly or not considering the other person's viewpoint.
- “Be respectful.” As Tammy indicated in her post, 20 different people can have 20 different definitions of what “respectful” looks like. This statement is also a subtle blame shifting comment. In effect, telling the other person to “be respectful” says that any harsh, unkind, or unthoughtful words we might utter are the result of their “disrespect.”
- “Control yourself.” Similar to “Be respectful.” We just told the other person that their out-of-control (based on our perception) behavior is the cause for anything we might have done to contribute to the conflict. This is a self-justifying statement.
- “You shouldn’t feel that way.” This statement came from the comments to the original post. Who are we to tell someone else how they “should” feel or what they “should” think. This statement is patronizing. It implies that we somehow see the truth more clearly than the other person in the conflict.
One of the keys to avoiding these errors begins with the mindset that we take into a conflict. When we own our contribution to the conflict and then focus our energies on understanding the other person's perspective and clearly communicating our concerns without shifting blame, we can avoid these conflict resolution errors.
Many thanks to Tammy for creating the original list.