Are there people in your life – at work or at home – with whom you always seem to clash? Perhaps it feels that you are frequently misunderstood by an individual (or you frequently misunderstand them).
In this situation we often get frustrated, assuming the other person is “difficult” and knowing that they are thinking the same of us. In many cases such understandings are based, not in the reality of the situation, but in the fact that the people involved have different ways of communicating and operate according to different models of the world.
For example, people who deal with detail are often frustrated by those who take a “big picture” view of situations.
There are also often difficulties between those who are more aware of differences than similarities and those for whom similarities are more obvious.
The consequence of these differences is that points of agreement are often missed. The differences become exaggerated as tempers flare and patience diminishes – sometimes to the point of an impasse forming.
When this happens, there are 3 techniques that can be used to get back to more productive dialogue.
- Firstly, instead of arguing about the immediate detail, each person should state their overall objective by describing the outcome that they are hoping to achieve. Very often, this will turn out to be the same or similar. Then you can both work to identify common goals – each acknowledging that the other’s perspective will enable a better all-round approach to be taken.
- Secondly, be aware that you might each be using the same words to mean different things. I have known whole projects come to a halt because of one team using a lay meaning of a word to a technical team who interpreted it in a very precise way and in a way which made the team’s request impossible. Again, be willing to describe what you want the outcome to look like – that way the other side has a chance to understand what you require and so explain any problems, if any, or to realise that they can deliver what is needed.
- Finally, remember that there are no mind readers. If you feel that you have been misunderstood or are misunderstanding something be willing to say so. Be willing even to describe which parts of the problem are causing you difficulty – and be willing to listen to the same from the other side. Having a mutual understanding can help both sides review their communication method.
Throughout, remember that opinions should not be confused with facts and that we all have different maps of the world around us – some notice the details and some the overall landscape, some see the technicalities, some the conceptual. All ways are valid and can complement each other. Problems arising from communications styles are commonplace, and recognising and understanding this issue is key to conflict resolution.
If you have conflict between individuals or teams and would like to understand and learn how to get more constructive relationships in place, contact me to discuss the approaches I can offer.