Choose Your Words

By: Zeb Merson

While raising and educating my son, I noticed a significant response pattern. When I would ask him not to do something, it was the next thing he did. The first time I told him not to touch the wood stove, he touched it. He’d touched it before. He knew the accompanying pain. When I specifically said not to, he seemed compelled to do it anyway. He wasn’t being defiant, (that came later) Not wanting my child to get burned I considered another possibility. I questioned and observed him closely. I realized he had to picture himself doing what I asked him not to do in order to think of himself not doing it. For me that was a revelation. I began to re-frame my comments and requests. Instead of saying, “don’t touch the stove,” I would say, “There’s a fire inside the stove!” I explained how the fire makes the stove hot. I would periodically ask him, “Is the stove hot, can I touch it?” “Hot!” he would tell me shaking his head. “Not hot, it’s OK.” smiling approvingly. I began to tell him how to do something, instead of how not to do it. Instead of, “Don’t eat the orange with the peel on it.” I would say, “This is how I eat an orange”, as I peeled it, gave him half and ate the other half. Next time he got an orange, he would peel it himself. Showing him how to do something instead of telling him how not, often led to a positive outcome. It continues to make sense to this day.

So, perhaps it isn’t so much what is being said, but rather it’s the way we choose. or don’t choose, to say it. We can take time to consider what we say before it’s said or allow it to fall without a second thought. It makes sense to consider what we want out of the situation. One way of expressing yourself can quickly justify an argument. Delivering the same message with moderately different words can get a similar message across while maintaining the peace. A prime example is criticism. In later years my son had difficulty hitting the baseball mid-season. When I was critical about his batting style I used language that told him he was doing it the wrong way. Regardless of how kind and patient I was being, his response was to retreat into thinking he was no good at hitting the ball with a bat. If I had chosen to encourage what was effective in his efforts and discuss what could be done to further improve his existing attributes, I’m certain there would’ve been a very different outcome. However, it would have required a shift in my idea about him hitting or not hitting the ball.

In the end it’s really about perspective. We either communicate the glass is half full or that it’s half empty. The truth remains the same, there’s still half a glass of water, but the outcome may be radically different. How many circumstances can you come up with where you can see this applies in your life? How do your choices apply to your words before they come out of your mouth? Can you think of times a change of word choice could have altered the events between you and your spouse? One of your children? How about a conflict at work, or what you said out the car window during a blazing hot summer rush hour? We owe it to others and to ourselves to find the words that hold the greatest truth we can perceive in relation to who and what we want to be in this world. We all hold the key to effective communication and that key is choice. Perspective is a choice; choose your words.

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5 Steps to Transform Conflict

By: Zeb Merson

Conflict is often caused by some form of communication breakdown-whether it’s with others or with ourselves. In that moment, for reasons true or false, we hold the other person or persons responsible for our experience of pain. These conflicts range from the mundane to catastrophic, from walking out on a dinner partner to starting a war. Do we ever have a communication breakdown without pain? Of course! There are many times we can disagree with another while communicating specifically and deliberately. The difference in those situations is we have the experience of being heard and understood by the other, even if we don’t agree. Additionally, they’ve had the opportunity to express themselves to us and they also feel heard and understood. There is disagreement, but there’s clarity; you each know where you stand in relation to the other. When this communication process breaks down we are cast back into uncertainty and a reactive pain response.

If we want to make use of our experience of conflict and transform it we have to develop our awareness of the shared communication process, both with others and with ourselves. Here are 5 steps that contribute a shared communication process for the transformation of conflict:

  1. Practice Self-Awareness
    Self-Awareness is the act of listening to ourselves. If we want to transform conflict we must be aware of the thoughts and processes of our own mind. Paying attention to our own thoughts and emotions supplies us with information. That information provides us the opportunity to make proactive choices and gain awareness of our true wants and needs. Know Thyself!
  2. Practice Other-Awareness
    Other-Awareness is the act of listening to another person. It’s very difficult to make an educated decision about what someone is saying if you’re not listening. Remember: hearing isn’t the same thing as listening. Listening demands your full attention. You know if you’re truly listening if you have no thoughts running through your mind while you’re listening. Deeply listening to another gives you the tools to fully comprehend what they think as opposed to what you think they think. Know the Other!
  3. Practice Acknowledgment
    Focusing on another to fully hear them is powerful. Acknowledging them for their contribution to the communication is an additional key to continuing an open dialogue. Whether you agree or disagree acknowledging the other lets them know you’re paying attention and appreciate their willingness to be truthful in the face of adversity. Let them know that you are receiving their message and hear what is true for them. Equally important the action invites them to show you the same curtesy. They’re taking the time to help you understand them-Thank them for it!
  4. Practice Clarification
    What one person says and the other hears aren’t always the same thing. Taking the time to clarify ensures you and the other person are on the same page. We all have filters and accepted meanings of words, but in many instances there are multiple interpretations. This alone can lead to substantial conflict and this one act of common interest can transform it. “This is what I heard, is it what you mean?” “Thank you for clarifying.”Ask for clarification!
  5. Practice Reframing
    The initial experience of a conflict is usually a negative one. The event or situation you experience in relation to the other party has left one or both of you with emotional pain. The opportunity in that moment is to recognize where and how you’re choosing the perspective that is triggering pain. It really does depend on the way you choose to look at it. An example of this is one we all know: Is the glass half empty or half full? Both observations inform the thinker and both are absolutely true. What perspective are you choosing in communication with another? Conflict can be transformed by reframing the context from which it originates. The conflict itself may remain, but through conscious reframing the capacity for the parties expressing themselves and being understood has expended to include other possibilities. With a shift in perspective, even a seemingly “harmful” conflict can be reframed with “worthy” meaning. Be Proactive!
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