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Friday, February 22, 2008

It Slays Me

I received a couple of hurtful emails this week. I’m a big boy and I can take conflict—you don’t have to agree with me—but I do have a thing against nasty emails. Let’s go out to lunch and disagree but let’s not fight with strokes of the keys.

This week reminded me of a few rules of communication that have been very helpful for me with interpersonal conflict resolution.

In my mind, there are levels of good communication in conflict that rank as follows (starting with the most effective/least room for error)

1. Face to Face
2. Phone Call
3. Letter
4. Email

There are obviously other ways to communicate (text, IM, etc.) but they hardly count when it comes to conflict resolution. Quite frankly, these low levels of communication should always be avoided when it comes to conflict. I mean, really, the only thing you are going to get out in a text is something like, “you suck” and that isn’t really helpful.

Face to face is always best because it leaves the least room for error. In a face to face resolution, it is much easier to read intent because of body language, eye contact, and tone. Plus, you are less likely to go off on a tangent and spout off things in an emotional frenzy. Face to face gives the person an opportunity to respond to your issues and gives you a chance to hear their side.

A phone call isn’t bad but it is less desirable because of the body language element. We will always believe the non-verbal communication over the verbal. The phone allows us to “hear” what is being said but does not afford us the opportunity to match the tone against the non-verbal reinforcements.

A letter can be a great way to communicate but it just seems a bit wimpy if we are honest. If you must gather your thoughts and put them all down on paper (which is usually the rationale for writing a letter) then write the letter and get together with the other party. Use the letter as a guide in your verbal communication. Make sure you tell the other party your letter is not intended to be a list of woes but rather a way to keep you on track.

Email is usually horrid for conflict resolution. It can be good to set an appointment but that’s about it. Email leaves so much room for misinterpretation. Make sure if you send an email to someone to set an appointment that you stay away from vague wording that keeps him or her awake at night. Be specific with your hurt so they know the issue and aren’t surprised when you get together. For example:

Wrong: “Steve, we need to get together. I have some things I need to share with you that are really bothering me.”
Right: “Steve, can we get together tomorrow for lunch? I have been bothered by your recent decision regarding the youth group and I want to make sure we talk it out.

Wrong: “Steve, hey man we should get together and hang!
Right: “Steve, I want to get together but I want to be fair and let you know I have been angry about xyz and I think we need to talk it through.

It is way too easy to throw-up on someone and hit “send” before we have had enough time to examine our words. Most people know this. That is why they email. It is fast and easy and they get to tear someone up without having to be human. Without having to listen. Without having to love. Without having to change.

One last note . . . NEVER personally attack/slay someone on your blog. I like to refer to this practice as Hanging the Cyber BA. Blog Assassination. The world has access to your blog. The people you are slandering have families. Blogs do not give the accused an opportunity to respond to you and everyone who has read your post. BA’s are irresponsible and wrong. I’m not talking about the kind of blog post where we say we didn’t like a movie or a song or a philosophy or an idea. I am talking about character assassination—the kind of post that demeans and or belittles a person in order to blow off steam.

Always use “I” messages in your conflict resolution. Do not try to build a case based on the supposed opinion of others. Example:

Wrong : : : I talked to a few people after church and they feel the same way
Right : : : I feel this way

Wrong : : : I know I am not alone in my opinion
Right : : : This is how I feel about it

Usually, when someone says “I talked to a few other people who feel this way” the actual scenario is, “my wife, my small group, and the other guy I complained to feel the same way after I shared my case.”

Finally, never read or save a letter or written comment that is not signed. It is not worth it. There is no way for you to resolve the conflict. The person who spouted off is not interested in conflict resolution and you shouldn’t feel guilty about tossing their comment in the trash.


Anonymous said...

Who is this Steve? What has the youth group done to offend him?

John said...

I would tell you who Steve is Ben but he asked that I keep his identity a secret. So did the other people I was talking to who all feel the same way.

Anonymous said...

jvo,bravo and well stated. for someone who has been the recipient of multiple attacks via emails, letters and phone messages, I couldn't agree more! These vehicles are like the ones we drive down the street somehow insulating us to a place of bravado we would never muster face to face... We're so polite if we get bumped on the sidewalk, with an, "I'm sorry" or "Excuse me." but make a wrong move in a car and horns blare and fingers fly. what is about these vehicles that make us think we can pick our nose and no one sees us?

BTW thanks for the "reader" tip for my blog... I'm still learning; got a long way to go.

Pat Callahan said...

for the record... i don't think you suck any more

John said...

Thanks for the encouragement, Dan. And, you are welcome on the tip. I learn new things all the time too. I like your vehicle metaphor. Peace.

Anonymous said...

JVo -

Well said! I love the term "Blog Assassination." Never heard of that term before.

I think you need to build on your ideas here and write an article for publication consideration for Rev or Relevant Magazine.

John said...

Thanks, Bryan. I'd love to do something like that.