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How to Overcome Communication Shipwrecks

Many people believe that conflict is natural and something to be sought after.  So far, January of 2010 has been filled with conflict.  Earthquakes (Haiti), political surprises (Massachusetts, Ben Bernake’s appointment), judicial surprises (Supreme Court and political contributions), and family squabbles.  Most of the family squabbles probably haven’t made the news; but for the people involved in many of them, the damage is every bit as catastrophic.

Today, let’s focus on just one form of natural conflict:  Interpersonal.  As the name suggests, this involves two or more people who, for whatever reason or reasons, have mismatched expectations regarding what the other person or persons is supposed to do or deliver. 

The relationships could be partner/partner, parent/child, spouse/spouse, manager/subordinate, etc. Whatever the relationship, there is a shipwreck coming because someone wasn’t on the same page as the other person.  Why does this happen?

Communications Shipwreck :

First person (superior in the relationship) says to second person:  “If I were you, I would do it this way.”  The speaker believes the message “do it this way” has been clearly communicated, only to learn later that the listener considered the comment to be a suggestion, not a directive.

So, if you’re the superior person in the relationship, don’t leave the loop open.  If you’re giving a directive, let the other person know.  Don’t expect him/her to be clever enough to read your mind and get it right.

If you’re on the receiving end of the communications process, you’re not off the hook.  It’s your responsibility to make sure you’ve properly understood the message.  It’s up to you to clarify and confirm your understanding of the message. 

Damage Report:

Unless there is something major at stake (pride, pleasure, peace of mind, profit), isolated instances of conflict are not always fatal.  However, trust usually suffers at least a temporary hit.  Recently, in a real life experience similar to the one described above, the situation quickly devolved into one of those “You always do this . . .” scenarios; and an already rocky relationship between an owner and a successor child went under . . . again. 

Conflict may or may not be genetically programmed into human beings.  There are some people who test positive for a negative attitude, and they are difficult to deal with.  Some of them may even be family members and business partners.  However, there are ways to reduce the likelihood of damaging, unarmed conflict.  It may take two or more people to make a lasting peace, but it takes only one person to make the first step.  Do you have what it takes to be the first person?


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