Communication Emergency Kit

Introduction from Dennis Rivers: “The Cooperative Communication Emergency Kit” evolved at the request of Dr. Paloma Pavel, a Bay Area psychologist who uses The Seven Challenges Workbook as a resource in her team-building work with hospital staffs.  She needed something to give people about conflict resolution and better communication that will fit on a single page, or even better, will fit on a card that folks can carry in their wallets. Then, when conflicts start, the card can remind people of problem-solving behaviors that are hard to remember in the heat of a dispute.

Many conflicts get worse than they actually need to be because the participants lose control of themselves and retreat into self-reinforcing patterns of attack and counterattack. Here are seven suggestions, drawn from the literature of conflict resolution and psychotherapy, that can help you navigate your way through everyday collisions of needs and come out still liking yourself and able to work with your “partners-in-conflict.” When a conflict starts, try these suggestions…

1. Calm yourself down by breathing very slowly and deeply. While breathing, think of a moment of great happiness in your life. Doing this will help you from feeling totally swallowed up by the current situation. It is not all of your life.

2. Think about what you really need. What is best in the long run for your mind, your body, your spirit, your workplace, your family, your community? Don’t allow yourself to get distracted from your own goals and needs by what you may see as someone else’s misdeeds.

3. Affirm anything that you and your partner-in-conflict might be able to agree on. Vividly imagine your partner-in-conflict as a potential ally. Imagine that you are marooned on a desert island with your partner-in-conflict, and that the long-term survival of both of you depends on the two of you cooperating in some sort of creative way that will meet more of both your needs. Then explore for areas where your interests and needs might overlap with the other person’s.

4. Acknowledge and apologize for any mistakes you may have made in the course of the conflict.Others may do the same if you get the ball rolling. Make an accepting space for your partners-in-conflict to start over. Letting go of defending past mistakes can allow participants in a conflict to see their situation from fresh angles.

5. Summarize the other person’s needs, feelings and position as fairly as you can, and do this first, before you present your own needs or requests. When people feel heard, they are more likely to listen.

6. Focus on positive goals for the present and the future, no matter what you and/or your partner-in-conflict may have said or done in the past. Punishing or shaming someone for past actions will not put that person in a frame of mind to meet your needs in the present. The present and future are all you can change.

7. Make requests for specific actions that another person could actually do, rather than for overall feelings or attitudes. Explain how the requested actions will help you, so that the other person feels powerful and respected in complying with your request.

Source: Cooperative Communication Skills EMERGENCY KIT: A Pocket Guide to Conflict Resolution by Dennis Rivers, M.A. Reprinted with permission of the author.   See New Conversations website for more free books, essays and exercises to help you, “communicate more creatively, successfully, & compassionately.” 

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