Bridging Divides: Learning to speak someone else’s language.

August 30, 2022

Confusion Corner likening to different conflict styles

“They” say that the key to healthy relationships is communication, but what happens when there is a communication breakdown? Misunderstanding, perceived aggression, misinterpreted lack of care…these feelings of distance aren’t hard to imagine in such a situation. And they can stoke a defensive fire within us, often unwittingly turning what was a natural conflict into a competitive and high stakes situation. Maybe “they” were on to something.

Fiery emotions can erupt when we clash with others. And if we succumb to these defensive feelings, a chasm begins to open up between us. If we do not carefully consider our next steps, this divide can quickly grow.

What if we could prevent unnecessary division by communicating in a way that the other person is more receptive to?

Previously we explored the idea that each of us has a preferred way of dealing with conflict. The important takeaway is this: in conflict, people like to be approached in the way that they would normally approach others.

Sounds simple, right? Perhaps, but simple doesn’t always mean easy. We all have a different way of approaching conflict. When our way of dealing with things doesn’t match up with someone else’s, this is when we can end up in situations where we’re metaphorically (or literally) shouting – but not being heard.

It’s like speaking another language.

Imagine travelling to another country – say, to a distant conference that’s being held in Geneva, Switzerland. You leave Canada and its familiar ‘eh’s behind, spend a disconnected day in international airspace, and find yourself touching down in a place you’ve never been before. Everything is shiny, and novel, and…not English. The cacophony of voices that echo off the hard airport walls are foreign and unknowable. Your grade school language studies help you to identify the noise to your left as French. But to your right…incomprehensible.

Let’s be clear: you are still a super-talented-and-funny individual, but just not an expert in every language. This is human, and no amount of raising your voice or repeating yourself is going to span a language gap.

In this situation, there are really only two options to make yourself understood: you can either learn to speak their language, or they can learn to speak yours. It’s worth noting that only one of these options is in your control.

Hello in different languages (in a speech bubble)

How does this translate to conflict styles? Remember: people have different preferences in how they approach communication and we’re aiming to meet them where they’re at.

Assuming you both read the same dictionary, the basic conflict styles can be simplified to:

  1. Avoid: Try to find a way to coexist without confronting the conflict – The neighbour’s dog is barking at the moon…eh, I’ll just sleep with my noise cancelling headphones tonight.
  2. Indirect: Try to find a way to bring up the issue at hand in a roundabout way – I heard your dog barking last night…is everything okay?
  3. Direct: Deal promptly with the conflict at hand – Knock knock knock…quiet your dog down NOW (please).

Each of these different approaches are like different languages. Having proficiency in more than one is definitely going to be helpful. If you can learn to be adept in various styles of addressing conflict, you will be able to communicate clearly with a more diverse group of people. Because if we spend all our time in one of these styles…well, we are going to get into trouble at some point.

When communication breaks down, the first thing we can try is to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Assume that it’s not personal and they’re dealing with things as best they know how. But if you are going to approach somebody to confront them, it’s wise to consider how you go about it so that you are heard.

Here are some helpful questions you might ask yourself:

  • Who is this person I’m in conflict with?
  • What is their style of dealing with it?
  • How might they appreciate my approach?

The way we see ourselves and the way we see others really impacts our interactions with people. If we can understand our own style and its strengths (while acknowledging the weaknesses), we can also appreciate the different approaches of others.

Start considering other people’s perspective of your actions in conflict. They don’t necessarily face life in the same way that you do. How would they react to direct confrontation? How would they hear you if you took on a softer approach? How can you put your energy in the right place to be heard and find resolution?

The old adage, "Treat others as you would like to be treated" doesn’t always work in conflict. You have to consider the other person’s conflict style and approach them in a way that works for both of you, so as to not be mistaken as aggressive, aloof, or something else that you are not intending to be.

There are several ways to work with conflict styles and we dive deeper into them with our online course Introduction to Conflict Resolution: Dealing with Difficult People. In it are tools to help you establish healthy relationship skills that will pay off in dividends over a lifetime, both for yourself and those that surround you.

And yet, sometimes despite your best efforts, you need to bring in a third-party mediator as a translator. Fill out an intake form for Mediation Services Winnipeg and we can facilitate a mediation session to help generate a clear understanding of everyone’s issues and concerns, working together towards resolution.

Things can get fiery when emotions get riled up. While it’s always wise to use carefully considered language to prevent conflict from escalating into a communication divide, sometimes it inevitably still happens. But, there is hope! We are adaptable, and divides can be bridged with a little bit of focused effort, openness, and creativity.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


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