Conflicts often go badly because of poor communication skills. I once read the results of a survey that indicated one of the leading causes of conflicts escalating to violence was the inability to communicate effectively. I could not find that source again as I wrote this post. So, I am uncomfortable claiming the statistic as the absolute truth. However, it does make sense.
In The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni makes the point that people don't have a need to get their way so much as they have a need to be heard and understood. If we accept the premise that people need to be understood, then a feeling that we are not understood can trigger some pretty strong emotions. After all, a need, not a desire or wish, is going unfulfilled. Unfulfilled needs always create a strong emotional response (for example: hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.).
When we can't communicate our thoughts, feelings, and frustrations, we feel misunderstood. This feeling creates an emotional response in us that we probably communicate to the other person in our body language and tone. They sense our heightened emotional state, and they respond in kind. (Our emotions generally take input from external sources – other people. I'll go into that more later. For now, let's just run with the idea.)
Now we have entered what Dan Dana, author of Managing Differences, calls the “retaliatory cycle.” The retaliatory cylce leads to increasing levels of emotion and conflict. Since we have all experienced this situation, almost all of us fear it. It leads to frustration, anger, hurt feelings, broken relationships, and unresolved conflict.
Is it any wonder we fear, and therefore avoid or attack, when we sense a conflict coming on? We are simply trying to avoid the pain that we anticipate will come.
One of the keys to breaking this cycle starts with improving communication skills. Improved communication skills is not a silver bullet that will cure all conflicts. It is a huge step in the right direction.
I'll be sharing more tips to address this fear later. For now, take a look at these resources I recommend over at my Squidoo page on Good Conflict. You can also look through my recommended reading list.
Picture courtesy stock.xchg.