How language connects and resolves conflict

I want to share with you a language of connection for resolving conflicts. I have found it leads to clarity, ease and effectiveness, in work and personal life. It is not a foreign language, but a human language. It helps us return to presence and connection with ourselves and others, and to a sense of being “in the flow” of life.

This language is based in universal needs (e.g. safety, freedom, community) common to people across all cultures, and to all of life. It connects us at a level of shared humanity and empowers us to better meet our needs and serve others. We can learn to shift from the biological “fight-flight-freeze” survival reaction at the core of conflict – and the language and thinking that goes with it – back to what I believe is our natural state. When we are not “triggered” into conflict, we naturally have a positive inner experience and relate harmoniously with others, contributing with joy to one another’s well-being. This language of needs can be applied to three dimensions of communication: how we listen to ourselves (self-empathy), hearing beneath the difficult messages of others (empathy), and expressing ourselves in a compassionate and assertive way (self-expression).

I want to share a story I heard recently from someone in one of my training courses. Jill was in the process of closing a business agreement with two of her clients, a husband and wife, when the couple started to argue. Jill started to react inside herself to their conflict, worrying that the business arrangement might fall through and internally judging their behavior. She became aware of her reaction and began consciously observing her thoughts and feelings, identifying what was important to her at a deeper level.

Jill consciously focused on feeling the trepidation bubbling up in her and identified her desires for financial security, contributing at work, and respectful and harmonious communication. As she shifted her attention, her mind and body relaxed. She then saw that she could offer the language and skills for mediating conflict not only with herself internally, but also with this couple.

Jill started empathically reflecting back what she heard them saying to each other and guessing at what their needs might be. She asked the wife if she wanted her opinions to be heard and to know her experience was valued. She asked the husband if he wanted trust about how he perceived things and appreciation of his efforts and abilities.

As they both started focusing on what they wanted at this level, the tension in the conversation subsided. Jill then said she had found it helpful in such situations for each person to repeat what was important to the other, without needing to agree with what the other was saying or wanting to do. They said yes, and as they started to do this, the tone of the conversation completely changed. Expressions of mutual understanding, warmth, and care reemerged, and before long they were all speaking constructively about the business arrangement.

Jill was thrilled about being able to catch and shift her own reaction and contribute to an important work situation. By using the skills she was learning, she was able to respond in a way that actually helped instead of watching helplessly or worsening the situation with a gut reaction.

This language of needs and communication skills comes out of a body of work called Nonviolent Communication (NVC) developed over the past 40 years by Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., the international Center for Nonviolent Communication, and a world-wide community of trainers.

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