CONFLICT RESOLUTION SKILLS: How to Replace Volume with Skill
Rather than expressing our emotions, our issues, and our requests with solid communication accuracy, we instead just increase the volume in conflict. Unfortunately, this lowers the odds of being heard. (Increasing your volume only makes your lack of knowledge and skill more apparent.) Alas!
My Musical Family
I have a large extended family who is very musical, so family holidays invariably include singing. Everyone is divided up into the appropriate sections: tenors, sopranos, altos, and basses. I head up another section: the noise section. But what I don’t have in talent, I make up for in volume.
Out of self-defense and survival, I have developed a philosophy: If you can’t sing on key, sing L-0-U-D! I pretend that volume makes up for accuracy. The Volume Method was created out of simple self-defense.
I can’t tell you how many times in teaching conflict and in doing mediation, I have had people tell me that the more frustrated they became in not being heard, the more they tried the Volume Method. Their anger increases, as does the stridency of their message. Then, the other person doesn’t hear the message; instead, all they hear is the anger. Expressing emotion with the intensity that you feel is essential in conflict, but the intensity doesn’t have to mean volume. It does, however, mean accuracy and strength.
The most common core formula used in conflict to increase accuracy (and decrease defensiveness) is ABCC:
A AFFECT (another word for feeling) I feel (describe your emotion)
B BEHAVIOR When (describe the specific action)
C CONSEQUENCE Because (describe the specific impact it is having on you)
C CHANGE Therefore (request for change).
Memory Cue: ABCC:
When the message is sung on the “right note” and sent as accurately as possible, it increases the odds of being heard.
Strength in Conflict
Strength: Strong singers are strong because their tones are supported (usually by strong, focused breath control). Part of being heard is having healthy boundaries to support our communication (in other words, we do what we say). It isn’t useful to set healthy boundaries with our words, but then not set them with our actions. Using good conflict resolution skills does not mean that I am a bully, overpowering, or pushy (this is simply volume). It does mean, however, that I am firm (this is accuracy and strength).
Avoid Noise in Conflict
Strong, focused support of our message also means NOT drowning it out with noise. What is noise in conflict? Noise is bringing up every tiny little thing and making it an issue. Noise is hammering and nagging someone endlessly. Noise is bringing up every past issue and throwing it into the fray at a moment’s notice. And noise means sending mixed messages so the person on the receiving end feels confused and off balance.
When Is the Right Time and Place?
This does not mean, however, that there is not a time and place for each of these things within a more appropriate context. Sometimes the little things ARE the big things. Sometimes repeating our issue helps us to be heard (broken record technique). Sometimes bringing up past issues is relevant because they are unresolved and have a present impact. And finally, sometimes sending mixed messages is okay because we truly feel ambivalence about the issue. The point is this: Think through your choices. This creates strength.
So, for good conflict resolution, instead of just being loud, be accurate and strong. This advice, however salient for conflict, is worthless when it comes to family singings. In place of accuracy, substitute volume. And if people move away from you (like they do me at family singings), well, that just gives you more vocal elbow room. Who needs notes when you have rhythm, desire, and strong pipes? Sing On, Baby, Sing On!