How We Talk to Each Other

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The first party to the mediation, I'll call him Matt, arrived early and seemed enthusiastic, if a little amped up, wanting to get started. The second party, I'll call him Ben, came with an attitude, a scowl on his face and a chip on his shoulder. He sat down and immediately crossed his arms over his chest and stared out the window. All I knew about them was that they worked in the same unit and had a "communication problem."

I began as I always do by having each tell me what brought them to mediation. I asked questions for clarification to make sure I understood the issues. It became clear that their style of communication was the real problem. Rather than have a conversation, they regularly hurled insults when something went wrong and accused each other of various nefarious deeds. They gossiped and spread rumors.

Unfortunately, in workplaces, families and neighborhoods, this type of communication is all too common. We have not traditionally valued or taught effective communication. Success is winning versus losing and our metaphors evoke war.

Effective communication is a skill that can be learned. It involves speaking in ways others can hear and listening with attention to what is being said. When we are only anxious to talk, we don't listen to what another has to say. Effective communication -- especially where there is conflict -- requires the parties to empathize, to put themselves in another's shoes and in so doing, promote understanding and resolution.

So over the course of the three hours we spent together, I helped Matt and Ben develop another way to talk to each other. They practiced saying things to each other in constructive, non-blaming ways and came to an understanding. We'd be a lot better off if all of us would do the same.


With a Perspective, I'm Adele Grunberg.

Adele Grunberg is a mediator who specializes in resolving conflict through effective communication.