In which I become an astrology columnist for a day.

Well, sort of.  This is my dear friend Kiki T , astrologist (or astrosexologist, as she prefers), who writes relationship-oriented horoscopes for all kinds of publications and was the featured astrologist on the Tyra Banks Show.  With Mercury in Libra, apparently it’s a good time to get down to conflict resolution bidness, so she asked me to lay down some communication basics for her blog…below is a re-print of my spiel.

The idea of conflict has negative connotations for a lot of people, but when managed properly, conflict can be a great opportunity to move forward, heal relationships, come up with new ideas, or just be heard.  Here are some handy steps and (deceptively easy) Jedi-esque tricks that will prevent your conflicts from escalating out of control…and will help you get what you need.

1. Listen without interruptingeven if you’re hearing absolute baloney. This is not easy, and it’s not about giving in either. It’s about setting the stage so that you can figure out how to best respond.  Jumping in and cutting someone off will only jeopardize your ability to make your point.

2. Repeat back what the person just said, and do it without sarcasm, twisting their words, or changing their content.  This is even harder than step one, and it sure feels unnatural.  Seriously, it’s bad enough to have to listen to a bunch of malarkey, but to have to repeat it back calmly and non-judgmentally?  Sheesh. It’s a lot to ask, but it works.  Not because you are capitulating (though it may feel that way), but because you want to prepare yourself for responding in way that will ensure that you will be heard.  A good start to this parroting exercise:  “I just want to make sure I understand…”

3. Let the other person confirm that you understood their issue. Then, remember: understanding their issue doesn’t mean you agree with them.  End your parrot spiel with “Did I get it right?” or some such statement. People love to be heard and understood. Once they are, moving forward is so much easier.

4. Let silence be your friend. Trumpeter Miles Davis taught jazzbos that the space between the notes is just as important as the notes themselves.  Don’t be afraid to pause before you react.  In fact, you may need a few moments to breathe deeply after steps 1-3, which can be exhausting

5. Give assertive and constructive feedback. I’ve never met someone who has responded to, “You, sir, are an ignoramus and a cad,” with a sincere, “My god man, you are so right; through your candor, I have had an epiphany. Hence forth I shall be a mensch – this I vow.”   Here are the steps for giving someone a difficult message in a way that will reduce the probability of a defensive response:

Start with something positive.  Is there anything you like/appreciate/don’t hate about the person?  Point it out.  Reflect that you care about the relationship. Tell them you appreciate their willingness to address a tough issue, and try your very best not to qualify it with a “but” of any kind.

Be specific. “You’ve always been a slob and never clean up after yourself,” will not get you as far as, “I noticed that last night you left empty tequila bottles in the apartment.”  As a rule, try to avoid using the words “always” and “never” in giving feedback, because they’re almost always never true.

Explain the impact of the person’s actions on you. Tell them how it made you feel, “As roommates, we’re a team, so I felt disrespected/dismissed/unimportant/ignored when you didn’t clean up the joint last night.”

Ask the person for ideas on how to move forward. Brainstorm on solutions. Repeat all previous steps as needed.

6. Let your body do the talking. We can say whatever we want, but it’s our non-verbal communication that makes all the difference. Open body language (like uncrossed arms) and a cow-face (a look of nonjudgmental, bovine curiosity) can go a long way.

7. Go easy on the venting. Freud’s followers are into the cathartic value of letting off steam.  Sure, it can feel good to get all up in someone’s face if they’ve done you wrong, but there’s a diminishing return on venting.  It will not only rile up the other person, it’ll escalate your own anger.  So, before you attempt any of the above, make sure you’re not in a high state of emotional arousal.

So, good luck…now go out there and generate some conflicts so you can try this stuff out!

3 thoughts on “In which I become an astrology columnist for a day.

  1. Brad: As you may recall, I hand out something called Communication Tips at some trainings but it’s nowhere as on point and clear as yours. This is simply the best succinct summary of important communication and mediation skills that I have ever seen. Worthy of copyrighting, placing in a nice picture frame, and/or distributing to selected colleagues and loved ones for daily use!

  2. Pingback: Naked smoking neighbors + shameless self promotion |

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