Some of my previous articles have been based on communications and while I’ve covered several different topics for improvement such as listening , speaking , and writing , I didn’t get into any specific areas that are typical breakdowns with communication for all three of those topics. Sometimes, its a situation or problem that presents itself that makes communication difficult and so the things we know about great communication fall apart.
So, I want to look more specifically now at the communication skills needed and techniques to use for mediating and communicating in difficult situations. Situations like disagreements, arguments, difficult decisions and other difficult situations (mad customers).
It’s easier to control the quality of the communication as an onlooker or mediator than it is when you are directly involved in these stressful or conflict situation. So, here are a few areas and techniques that can help you mediate a difficult situation and help to control the quality of the communication in it before things get worse.
Paraphrase and Question to Discover Feelings
People rarely get their point across well in difficult situations and no matter why, it is always useful to paraphrase what anyone is saying to be completely clear about what they are saying. Putting someone’s words back to them and asking if that is correct often highlights how wrong something might have come across or that you didn’t get the point at all. If you proceed with action or discussion on something that you interpreted wrong, it is easy to make things worse very quickly. Paraphrasing as a mediator ensures that all parties clearly understand the message someone is making and it keeps you from appearing to change someone’s message.
Questions in response to someone’s message is also very valuable as it helps to get to the bottom of things. This requires you to ask reflecting questions that makes someone think about their message. Asking why someone has a certain comment and asking how it makes them feel are simple yet very effective at finding real opinions and underlying feelings in what is being communicated instead of what is reacted on and displayed at the surface. Quick reactions and communication often begins with defensive, aggressive and exaggerated comments that make things worse. Use questions to dig deeper (for example on a subject like texas debt collection act) at these and find out why they are said and the feelings that drive that message. These feelings are the important part and a mediator who can get them revealed quickly can move things forward to a smooth resolution very easily.
The next steps are crucial as well in being a good mediator, but this is the most important step to actually solving a problem and to prevent it from escalating into a bigger communication battle. The reason for this is that feelings are very personal. Two things happen when they are revealed:
- Personal feelings expose you and make you vulnerable. This is required to have trust from others and it can quickly turn a bad situation around when others trust you and want to hear what you have to say.
- The impact it has on someone’s feelings is hard to ignore. Most people react quickly to that and become more understanding and empathetic to those feelings once revealed.
Empathize Without Claiming To Know How One Feels
Feelings are very personal to everyone, so its important to leave those feelings unique to the other person. Don’t claim to know how someone feels or say you’ve felt just like that. You never really know exactly how someone feels and its usually comes across as arrogance if you try to claim to understand. Most people feel vulnerable sharing feelings so while you definitely want to empathize and tell them you are concerned and care about how they feel, you should not take that feeling from them and claim it yourself. A defensive person will often just argue back that you don’t understand and then you’ve lost any trust and chance to empathize with them. Even if you have been in a similar situation or experience, it’s impossible to know exactly how they feel, so don’t pretend to!
You can empathize and relate to their situation, just leave their feelings for them to own! Change your wording to something like:
- I can’t know exactly how you feel but I’ve been in similar situations and I was upset as well.
- I’m sure it’s difficult and I care about how you feel in this situation and I want to help you and support you!
- I’m confident that you can handle it and I hope to help in any way I can.
- While I can’t possibly understand exactly how you are feeling, I can see that you are unhappy.
- I’d be happy to listen if you have more to share to me help understand more about how you feel.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone that gets upset with this type of empathetic response and none of them are intrusive to their personal feelings so they don’t lead to a defensive response. Show that you care and want to help, and leave the rest up to them. Don’t try to take away or claim their feelings as your own. It doesn’t help!
Speak Calmly, Slowly and Stay in Control
Another important thing to keep in mind for mediating any difficult situation is your own communication. Your speech, reactions and body language have an enormous impact on others so you must be very careful with them to ensure you do more help than harm. You must remain calm. Even if you need to step into an argument of yelling and name calling, you can only be effective at this if you stay calm yourself. Yelling and screaming to appease a situation only works do a degree if you have authority and power to do it and it doesn’t make you look like a mediator wanting to solve the root problem, but just someone who uses their power to control things.
So, you want to stay calm and speak to all parties in a similar calm tone with your speech. Speak slowly if others are worked up and quick with their words. Speak softly if others are yelling. Humans unconsciously shift their communication style to match other parties so you need to keep people calm and under control. If you do this, others will naturally gravitate to match this, even if they are emotionally charged up!
Give Everyone a Chance to Express Themselves
If there is one thing that will make people hate a mediator most, its if that mediator doesn’t give everyone a chance to express themselves. You must give everyone a chance to speak when you take control of a communication breakdown. Tell everyone that they will all have a turn, don’t accept ANY interruptions and control the order and time each person has to make their points. You should avoid cutting people off if they have a lot to say, but make sure that everyone has an equal chance to share their thoughts, if they want it.
Making sure that everyone has a chance to express themselves can also require you to draw out people’s thoughts by questioning and probing them directly. Some parties will withdrawal and reserve from conversation but it’s just as important to make sure they have a chance to express themselves as anyone else so sometimes you need to push this a bit to help keep some balance for who is heard!
Never Get in the Middle and Communicate For Someone
Speaking of people who withdrawal, some parties just stop communicating with each other after some kind of breakdown and they expect a mediator to then step in and do all the communication. Never let this happen! The only way to solve a problem with communication breakdowns is by better quality communication between those initially involved. Even if mediating a communication problem has led to private conversations, never take on any part of the communication yourself. Don’t offer to talk to someone privately or on their behalf. If feelings were hurt, are still hurt or there is more to be said to get past the problem, leave the communication between those directly involved. You can still attend, help calm the situation and get people together to discuss and even push people a little to reveal what needs to be said, but you should never communicate for someone else. It will only lead to you appearing to take sides and you will quickly become a go between with the communication getting more and more sparse. If you are asked to give someone else a message or tell them something, say NO! Always ensure the communication responsibility stays with those originally involved.
A Mediator Doesn’t Come Up With Any Solutions
Staying in control always means staying objective and mediating all sides. You never want to be taking one side or deciding how to solve a situation yourself. Similar to not getting in the middle and communicating for someone, when a problem exists that needs attention and a solution, never provide that solution as the mediator yourself. You might have some ideas or suggestions but always let the parties involved decide how to address things and attend to the situation. If you force any solution you can quickly appear to be taking sides or just as easily, prematurely accelerate to a solution that others are not yet ready for. If they are not yet ready to forgive and move forward, work with them on that and wait until they are darn good and ready to pick their own solution. If you are truly empathizing with everyone, you must leave the decisions, solutions and communication up to them and only be available as a mediator, ready to listen, help and guide people towards a solution without getting in the way.
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