Nov 05

4/7 Using Clear Expression in Conflict Solutions

In this series on Communication Skills, we are discussing the block to good Conflict Solutions.  We have seen how learning to listen and to know how to Reflective Listen are important in all relationships.

We saw in our last post how Jacko and Chelsea had different ideas of what to do with their special day.  Because either one could be open or state what they really wanted to do, their day ended up half-hearted.  Learning how to state clear, honest and ‘uncontaminated’ messages, they lost the opportunity to have a great day.

Here is a re-play of their discussion for our discussion:

“One example is the ‘discussion’ between Chelsea and Jacko as they prepared to spend a day together.  Starting with their breakfast at their favourite eating place, Jacko suggested they visit mutual friends – because he knew they had a very large screen TV.  He knew his friend would be watching the footy match!

“Chelsea had other ideas: “Maybe a day at the beach or see a movie?”  Her expectation would be a romantic day together.  His was to do what?  Neither took time to hear the underlying message from the other.  The day ended up with neither satisfied in what they wanted to do.”

Let’s look in more detail what sort of communication problems they both have.

A.  Words have different meaning for different people

An example of this is the word ‘couple’. 

Where I am from in Michigan (USA), the word couple means “a few”.  In Oregon where my wife is from the word couple means “a pair, or two”.  This used to get me into trouble with Susan when I would say “It’s only a couple of blocks away”. 

She would feel that I betrayed her trust, when the place we were looking for turned out to be 3 or 4 city blocks away.  I didn’t intend to deceive her, it was just a misunderstanding due to our different backgrounds.

1.  People “hide” the real meaning of their words

Sometimes we accidentally hide the real meaning of what we are saying by not expressing ourselves well.  Other times we hide the real meaning deliberately.

Often we are ambivalent about expressing ourselves accurately.  We both want to tell someone something, but maybe are afraid to as well.  Because we all have insecurities, all of us are concerned about how another person will react to what we say, at times.

Some people are particularly good at giving ‘hidden messages’ – like Jacko and the footy match.  He got ‘grumpy’ when Chelsea didn’t know how to decode the message.  Chelsea then gets blamed for being ‘insensitive’, when actually they are just ignorant of the real signals.

2.  We all “beat around the bush”

Tied in with the above problem is that, like Chelsea, we have trouble getting to the point.  Often the subject we don’t want to broach directly is the one we really need to talk about.  Chelsea really wanted a romantic day with Jacko to discuss their future together.

Unfortunately ‘decoding’ is always guess-work, especially with Jacko for who wasn’t raised with ‘female logic’.  We can never be completely sure we have analysed the message correctly, unless we use reflective listening techniques to double-check what we “think” we have understood.

Jacko tried to skirt around the real issue, “testing the waters” to see if he would get a negative reaction to what he really wanted.  This comes about because important issues also make us the most vulnerable to the other person, and so we want to know whether we can trust them.

3.  People fail to get in touch and express feelings

This is another thing our example couple need to learn.

Many people have trouble identifying their feelings, and even more trouble expressing them to others.  Part of this hesitation is our cultural heritage and whether we are males or females.  Men, in particular, in Western society are not encouraged to show most feelings.

Frequently people are taught as children to hide or suppress their feelings.  Others are taught to “let it all hang out” and overwhelm people with their feelings.  Either way few people are taught to identify feelings and then verbalise them to others.

B.  Blocks to Clear Expression

There are lots of blocks to clear expression.  Our tone of voice, our grammar, our incomplete messages can all stop the listener from really understanding us.  Some blocks we have looked at already, others are below.  Let’s start with one of the most damaging blocks to relationship.

1.  Common Hidden Agendas versus coming out in the open with thoughts, feelings or needs.

In relationships when we have a “hidden agenda” we have a list of things that we would like to say but can’t say directly.  They are messages about what we really feel inside.  All of us use hidden agendas.  Here are a few used by Jacko and Chelsea:

a.  As barriers against others getting too close,

b.  When we don’t feel good about ourselves,

c.  To make ourselves appear better at something than we really feel we are,

d.  To give another (hidden) message, when we are afraid of the other person’s reaction,

e.  To avoid dealing with the real issues with others,

f. To impress others,

g. To get what we want without giving away too much information.

Can you identify what might have been stooped Jacko from stating what he really wanted?  What about Chelsea and her unclear, foggy suggestions.

3.  The use of Partial Messages rather than honest, open comments.

This includes such things as incomplete messages.  They are statements sent without all the facts.  Some inferences, feelings or needs of the person have been left out.  Such messages:

a.  Create confusion and distrust, as people know something is missing,

b.  Cause suspicion when people hear incomplete information as they see it,

c.  Keep the listener from responding, so we don’t hear “both sides”,

d.  Make others uncomfortable with demands for change, when we don’t express clear information as to what we expect,

e.  The listener gets frustrated, due to the uncertainty surrounding our communication,

4.  The use of ‘Contaminated Messages’

These are mixed statements which contain other messages besides the ‘surface’ one.  They may contain thoughts that a person would really like to say, but feel they cannot for some reason.  Such messages not only leave out important information but also transmit disguised, hidden messages under the surface.

5.  Contaminated Messages are problems in communication:

a.  Are confusing in their double meaning,

b.  Cause alienation as the other person is unsure of the speaker’s motivation,

c.  Rely on the other’s person ability to interpret what is said, thus resulting in misunderstandings,

d.  Send undercurrents of emotions, causing emotional reactions in the other,

e.  Give contrary signals – the content of the spoken word, the tone of voice, and gestures may be saying different or opposite things.

Can you begin to see how the problems in communication are mounting up for Chelsea and Jacko?  They not been honest and open in their own wishes, needs or expectations about their day together. They had displayed hidden adgendas, incomplete messages.

Looking deeper, neither one gave clear signals as to what their deeper meanings were.  They failed to communicate what they wanted in ways the other could understand.

They may need some special help in resolving their conflicts.  In fact, this is the topic of our next post, ‘How to have Clear and Open Conversations’.  Then we move onto ‘Learning how to Problem Solve in relationships’.  So join us then,

Susanne Fengler. Blog Author


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