Using active listening through a spat is the first move you can take to mitigate the situation and crack whatever problems have surfaced. Realize, nonetheless, that when people feel strongly about an issue, their emotions will impact their ability to correspond and listen. It is imperative therefore to utilize a blend of active and reflective listening skills. Here are five methods you can use to defuse conflicts and enhance effective communication.
1. Condemn the issue or behavior, not the person. By dealing with the issue or the behavior, you evade attacking the other person. If you are “arguing” with your teen about a curfew, stick to the issue of the curfew or to his actions of breaching curfew. Don’t scour up all of his past blunders or chastise him a “crazy kid who can’t do anything right.” That is attacking the person. It will harm his self-esteem and will only create barriers. Listen to what he has to share and keep him on track if he wanders from the issue. Persist with active listening even if he other person does not. Your liberality with active listening will help soothe a potentially damaging situation.
2. Understand that each person has worth. It is almost impractical to observe active or reflective listening if you dismiss the speaker as inferior or insignificant. You don’t have to concur with him, but it is decisive that you defer to his right to a different opinion and recognize his sense of value. Find something that the two of you have in common. Try to appreciate what the other person is saying and why he feels a certain way.
3. Sidestep absolutes – right/wrong, bad/good. Statements like “you always” or “you never” are absolutes that hinder communication. An active listener will sense these right away and counter with a statement such as, “I hear you saying I always do such and so, but actually I…” The same is true of statements that indicate right/wrong or bad/good. This is not to say there aren’t circumstances that are right or wrong, bad or good, but in a dispute most right/wrong or bad/ good situations are merely exaggerations and the truth is somewhere in between. All-encompassing simplifications polarize a conflict. The focus then is not on cracking the difficulty at hand, but instead the focus is on each party effectively defining her personal position.
4. Convey “I feel” messages instead of “you” messages. For illustration, when you say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” you are sending a “you” message. An “I” message would be, “I don’t understand what you’re discussing.” The “you” message lays culpability on the speaker. The “I” message clarifies your apprehension. The same is true with your teen. An “I” message would be, “I worry about you when you aren’t home by your curfew,” or “When you come beyond your curfew, I feel like you are intentionally flouting me.” The “I” message tells the other person how you feel about a position. The “I” message is concerned with the issue. The “you” message harass the person.
5. Activate your brain and defer your emotions. This is perhaps the most trying of the five techniques since verbal discord by nature is emotional. The eventual goal is to transform the verbal conflict into a dialogue. Verbal rows are counterproductive in conducting business and certainly don’t cultivate a harmonious home life. Instead of letting your emotions take over, ask yourself, “How can I help solve this problem? What resolution is paramount for both of us? What can we modify? You need to rein in your emotions for the sake of the issue. Listen energetically and nonjudgmentally.