Using Constructive Communication to Resolve Conflict

After over ten years of legal practice, the most important skill I learnt for resolving disputes and de-escalating conflict is clear communication. I learnt to state concisely and concretely, what the position of my client was. It also helped to deconstruct the other party’s position and to emphasise a favourable interpretation of the facts and the evidence. The point of that exercise was to demonstrate that our position was stronger than the other’s and so they might as well give up and settle or concede in some other way.

Some would argue that all this does is entrench positions and prevents the parties from actually getting together and working out a solution to their dispute. Sadly, that is often the case when preparing to resolve disputes in a judicial system that enables one party to win and the other to lose. It encourages competition which means more money and time is spent (and sometimes wasted), not to mention the increased stress.

Why is Clarity Important?

Conflict in its simplest form, is often about access to a resource. It arises from the feeling that you might be denied access to something which is really important and that doesn’t necessarily have to be money or assets. It could be love, a relationship or respect. This can evoke an immense emotional reaction or none at all, but this may determine how easy or difficult it is to resolve the conflict.

Often what we communicate to a party when we are in conflict with them, is our emotional response. We don’t usually give them a factual account about what is causing that emotional reaction. This is exactly why people involve lawyers and other third parties in their conflicts. Being emotionally unattached to the conflict means that they can think strategically and realistically about what the conflict will achieve, how to de-escalate it and crucially, how to deal with it in a reasonable manner. That’s not to say that the third party doesn’t involve their emotions. I have come across several lawyers who are angered when they perceive a slight to their reputations ! However, they are able to deal with the dispute in a way that ensures that the emotion is kept to a minimum when communicating the facts of a dispute and what you would like from the other party.

You aren’t just communicating emotionally, you are communicating constructively

Communicating constructively in a conflictual context is about indicating to the other party how you intend to resolve it. It could mean taking out the emotional reaction and describing what the problem is. It could also mean explaining how you feel and why.

Tips for Communicating Constructively

  • Be polite and respectful, no matter what.
  • Keep in mind what you hope to achieve. You may have something to lose (which is why you need to resolve the conflict) so keep in mind that you need the other person’s cooperation.
  • Keep communication as factual as possible. There is no harm in telling the other person calmly what you feel but you should aim to transform the conflict into a dispute. I have written previously about this and you might find my blog post on this helpful.
  • If you can’t have a conversation without it becoming destructive or you are fearful of the other person, communicating in writing is an option.
  • If you are communicating in writing, read and re-read your email before sending. Create some distance between your message and your emotions by reading the message a day before sending it. This will help you ensure it is clearly written and communicates exactly what you want. Remember, the other person may perceive it in their own way but be as clear as possible, especially when expressing emotion.
  • If in doubt, ask a trusted friend to read your message to get their impression of it.

What do you think about this?

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