Communication & Conflict Wisdom
Words of Anger, and Language of Peace
Recently, I came across some Facebook posts coming from a colleague who works in the areas of international education, development and training. She's a colleague I've worked with in the past and for whom I have great respect (or had).
She asked people to contact the government to protest their refusal to supply short time visas to allow her former students in Nigeria to visit from Africa for a reunion. Since I've worked with people from the same population and country, I asked what I might do to help.
Then I realized something. The language she used, accusatory in nature, and invoking the "racism" complaint, came across to me as a bit strident. Then, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I didn't care to be associated with someone, even someone well respected, who was trying to exert pressure through the use of words one might call "fighting words".
The essence of her communication to the government (she published the letter she sent to the Immigration department" was this: Since SHE could find no valid reason for the denial of SOME of the visas, she concluded, later in the letter, that racism was the culprit.
Racism IS still alive and well in this world, and the 9/11 destruction hasn't helped advance the anti-racism cause, of which I have also been a part.
IF she had some documented evidence to explain the denial of visas I would have had little problem standing shoulder to shoulder with her. And contributing my voice.
The problem is that anyone can trumpet an opinion based on their bias, but what will the outcome be. Usually success is elusive when one tries to inflame situations. Occasionally, one wins through intimidate, but that perpetuates a style of interaction based on confrontation and inflammatory language.
So, I concluded a) that I could not support her attempts, and b) that there was no point even having a discussion on the point. People who tend to use inflammatory language that divides people tend not to be open-minded. It also discouraged me that a number of her Facebook friends applauded her actions, apparently, not needing any evidence to support a contention that, while possibly correct, came with no documentation.
Language of Inflammation, Language of Peace
I continued to think about this further and realized that there are two "language" sets (that idea isn't new to me but I've never used the term peaceful communication before).
One can phrase things to anyone -- spouse, co-worker, boss, friend, in ways that WILL provoke defensiveness, anger and counter-attacks. In my view this is the kind of language used by the person I've described. It's a language of confrontation and advocacy. It's also the language of the bully.
On the flip side there's the "language of peace" which is much more "working with" than "working against". It is based on:
- Observable behaviors that can be verified
- Separating out facts from opinion, while making the distinctions clear. Also opinions should be clearly marked and the evidence and thinking should be supplied including facts, but also experience, logic, etc).
- Not demeaning readers or listeners by suggesting they "don't get it", don't understand, or are, somehow, less than the person presenting the argument.
- Focuses on working together, rather than winning ALL the stakes.
There's certainly more characteristics of peaceful language and communication and it's possible to drill down and examine the words and phrases a person uses, or could use and identify the specifics of peaceful communication versus inflammatory communication.
Random Thoughts On Peaceful, Building Bridges Communication
- The confrontational approach, something we see far to much of in our governments, polarizes opinions and leads people to believe in black and white issues. One side says this. The other contradicts, and so long as the confrontational style continues, no agreement will occur. Only anger and frustration.
- The language of peace improves the credibility of the players using it, versus people who are "fighting" all the time. Often this has the unfortunate effect of making the "fighter" more angry, and more strident. It ends up as a vicious circle.
- The idea of the language of peace is relevant and applicable for ANY situation where there is disagreement, whether its a spouse to spouse conversation, or two countries, or labor and union. All the same rules apply.
- Peaceful language can be learned. It's not necessarily a function of "personality" or even "style". It's about skill, and learning how to do it. Unfortunately we don't teach children, or adults for that matter, how to do it.
- Confrontational approaches poison relationships, and reduce the ability for parties to actually solve problems and create the synergy and new ideas that might actually enrich their lives, or the lives of others (i.e. the population of a country).
- Confrontational approaches not only insult the other party, but they insult the intelligence of onlookers, and demean our institutions. If you have ever watched television coverage of debates in government, i.e. the Senate, House of Representatives, Parliament, the often childish, "in your face", trying to score points process is embarrassing to watch. This shakes the faith of the population in those important institutions.
I lost a good deal of respect for the colleague I mentioned, because, particularly for those that exert influence over others, I believe there is a responsibility to build bridges, and not create larger chasms just to get one's way.
On the positive side, I realized it was time to re-visit my book on the use of "cooperative communication", which teaches people the specifics -- what to say, what not to say, to interact in peaceful ways that encourage working together. It's still an excellent book.
Eventually, possibly in late 2012 (that would be next year), I plan on revamping the book, since I think it makes it possible for people to understand how THEIR use of language creates tension and disharmony. It also makes it possible for people to learn not just a general philosophy, but very specific techniques to replace the "fighting words" they use at home and at work.
Finally, on a personal level, I made a commitment that I will never support a cause or organization that uses language to accuse, demean or otherwise attack others in a chronic manner.
I won't vote for any party of candidate that uses attack ads. I won't lend my voice to causes that try to "win" by polarizing people into black and white, me versus you camps.
Want to Learn More? Improve Your Relationships, and Leave a Legacy of Building Bridges THROUGH Conflict?
Check out our book "Conflict Prevention In The Workplace - Using Cooperative Communication". No matter if you want to have better family relationships, or succeed at work with less hassles, you WILL benefit from learning the specific, applicable "peace" techniques.
If you have limited time for a book, try out our "fast learn" method of learning bridge building communication methods. You can purchase it or preview it free of charge -
Since times are tough for a lot of people, you might just prefer to learn from our many articles on conflict and communication, designed to explain many of the concepts of communicating positively and bridge building through the use of communication skills. They are free, and you can even share them with family, friends, coworkers and your boss (some limitations apply).
It may be that we can't change how governments interact, particularly in countries where being bellicose is a way of life and we may not even have much impact on our politicians, but what we can do is focus on building better relationships with those who we communicate with, and who are important in our lives.
Think globally, act locally. First learn. Apply your skills and I'm betting you'll be amazed at how small changes in how you discuss, argue, and communicate can make such HUGE changes in your life.