Conquering the Art of Communication: Conflict Resolution

Susan Parish-Walker

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” Mother Teresa

When you observe your surroundings what do you see and what do you hear? In the hustle and bustle of our busy lifestyles, many of us have forgotten what it is like to listen carefully to others and to be cognizant of our atmosphere. Most couples are oblivious to the subtle messages that their environment or partner sends to them. If one becomes an active listener and observer of these nonverbal messages, it may improve the communication process in your partnership.

Most people want to be listened to and understood, when communicating with their partner. Couples with mutual respect and trust in their relationships are able to achieve more effective decision-making and communication. Couples can more easily resolve conflicts in an egalitarian relationship, one in which power and control issues are not a battleground. Implementing ineffective communication styles, such as “blaming and shaming” your partner only harbors resentment and anger.

The art of effective communication involves the ability to incorporate assertiveness skills into your communication style and to be respectful of others. When one becomes assertive they consider other’s feelings and use the following types of statements. “I would prefer that we discuss this matter more thoroughly prior to making a final decision.” In other words, each partner expresses mutual respect and regard towards one another and incorporates “I” statements when communicating with one another. Simply, the difference between assertive styles versus aggressive styles of communication is that assertiveness takes into account the feelings of others, whereas aggressiveness does not consider others’ feelings.
“Conquering the Art of Communication” is a gender’s guide to understanding effective verbal and nonverbal communication. It improves the couple’s ability to incorporate conflict resolution skills into their partnership. Hence, “Conquering The Art of Communication” educates both genders on methods of relating feelings, thoughts, and ideas in a positive and productive manner.

EQ Versus IQ

Dr. Daniel Goleman, published a thought provoking book on understanding the significance of emotional intelligence which includes self-awareness and impulse control, persistence, self-motivation, and empathy. According to Dr. Goleman these are the qualities that mark people who excel in real life: whose intimate relationships flourish and the character of the individual conveys one of self-discipline, altruism and compassion. Marital therapists have attempted to address the difference between communication styles and the gender gap for years. Perhaps the origin of the communication conflict stems from the differences between the emotional and language developmental changes.

Through the years of working with children and adolescents it has been interesting to observe in a clinical setting how parents introduce and cope with emotions with boys and girls. For example, parents in general process emotions with the exception of anger more with girls than with boys. According to the research, mothers demonstrate more of a wide range of emotions when playing with their daughters than their sons. Moreover, girls develop facility with language more quickly than do boys, which  allows them to articulate their feelings more freely. At the onset of adolescence, girls become more adept than boys at artful aggressive tactics like gossip and participating in the grapevine and indirect vendettas. Conversely, boys continue being confrontational when provoked to anger and are unaware of the more subtle strategies.

Historically, when girls play together they do so in small and intimate gatherings such as playing school or house and the objective is to be cooperative and there appears to be a sharing spirit. On the other hand, boys play in larger groups, with the major emphasis on competition such as cowboys and Indians or sports. In general, boys appear to be more autonomous whereas girls seem to seek a sense of belonging or bonding with one another. In short, this may lead to the genders pursuing very different agendas during the course of conversations. Many studies support the theory that women are more empathic than men, at least as measured by their ability to interpret nonverbal cues. In addition, the emotional gender gap may allow couples to not resolve some of their conflicts in a productive manner to enhance the intimacy in their relationship.

What In the World Are You Talking About?

Classical music is one of the most cherished gifts that great composers such as Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart have offered to our society. Beethoven’s expanded music broadened the scope for emotional expression, giving voice to the revolutionary spirit of the age. He was a passionate artist and composer and when he wrote the Ninth Symphony, a triumphant setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy, he stood stone deaf on the stage, oblivious of this masterpiece, until one of the soloists turned him around to see the thunderous applause from the audience.

What if you were like Beethoven and you simply could not completely understand verbal messages that were conveyed to you by your partner? If one becomes more observant of their environment and the nonverbal communication process it does not mean that you read too much into this without clarifying the communication process.  Do you feel that you have the ability to read someone’s mind or look into a crystal ball and predict the future? A rational human being who does not have distorted thinking or cognitions may not be able to read their partner’s mind or predict human behavior.

However, many arguments among couples occur because one or both individuals start mindreading or fortune telling their partner’s moods, thoughts, and behaviors. An example of mindreading would be that your partner forgot to kiss you goodbye before he/she left for the office so you assume he/she is upset with you. An example of fortune telling would be that you anticipate that your partner will not be loyal or committed to the relationship and you have no basis for this prediction. Perhaps you are projecting your own insecurities and past relationships onto your partner and he/she is very committed to the relationship. Unfortunately, this type of communication may be very psychologically damaging to your relationship and a self fulfilling prophecy sets in because you may began to sabotage the intimacy and become intimate enemies. During the communication process, it is important to clarify your partner’s communication and to not make assumptions so you can avoid mindreading or fortune telling.

On the other hand, the majority of our communication styles are interpreted through our nonverbal communication skills such as our body language, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Thus, we may be conveying more information than we would like to self-disclose through our nonverbal communication. Particularly in the case where couples are having conflict over an issue and one or both partners will not acknowledge verbally that they are angry, but nonverbally it is very evident through their behavior and body language. Therefore, it is important for both genders to be cognizant of the differences in their communication style and how to learn to resolve conflict effectively.

Who Is The Chatterbox?

Prior to examining the differences in the genders in terms of their communication style, it is imperative to understand the enormous diversity in their communication style within gender groups. Most men and many women have at their disposal a variety of conversational and speech skills, any one of which they may draw upon, depending on the situation, their purposes, the roles they are assuming, and the context of the conversation.

More specifically, in mixed-gender groups such as public gatherings or informal settings, men spend more time talking than do women. Furthermore, the men with expertise talked longer than the women with expertise and men initiated more interaction than do women.

Interesting enough, men are more likely than women to interrupt the speaking of other people. Some of the interruptions that women experience come from other women. In other words, when women do interrupt, it appears women are more likely to interrupt the same gender versus men.

On the other hand, in formal group meetings, men lead the conversation more often, and keep the floor for longer periods of time, regardless of their status in the organization. Women tend to take less time in asking questions than men do and they ask fewer questions as well as phrase their questions in more personal language. In contrast, when the meetings are informal, collaborative venture, women display a fuller range of language ability. Here, in the kind of conversation where women excel, people jointly build an idea, operate on the same wavelengths, and have deep conversational overlaps.

He Said… She Said…

Does it really matter who talks more? According to the research, those who talk more are more likely to be perceived as dominant and controlling of the conversation. Interrupters are perceived as more successful and ambitious, but less socially acceptable, reliable, and companionable than the interrupted speaker. However, when women are interrupted often or her comments are ignored, she may come to believe that what she has to say must not be important. Women are less likely than men to have confidence in their ability to make persuasive arguments. Could it be that this may be one reason why some women are conflict avoidant because they do not have the self-efficacy or self-confidence to formulate an argument? Many women feel inhibited in formal, mixed-gender groups. Therefore, when women do have something to say they tend to talk too fast as though they know they are about to be interrupted.

Regardless of the gender differences in communication patterns, what really matters is how do the genders communicate in their interpersonal relationships. First of all, it is important to not become conflict avoidant, but to address each issue as it arises in the context of the relationship as soon as possible. In other words, do not let the sun set on your wrath! Conflict resolution skills are the most powerful communication techniques that may be implemented in healthy relationships. For example, assertive behavior exhibited by females and males is typically viewed as very positive by both genders. Many studies show that the healthiest individuals were the ones who appear more assertive, decisive, and intellectual, rather than nurturant, responsive and emotional.

Researchers hypothesized that women feel vulnerable in their relationships, especially with men. Women’s sense of vulnerability would be particularly salient in conflict situations if there is potential for aggressive behavior or physical violence. Studies show that women more often reported feeling scared or vulnerable than did men. Women were significantly more likely to feel vulnerable in conflicts with men than in conflicts with other women. Women were more likely to talk about being afraid of normal conflict and of being the victim of aggression or violence. Women reported that concerns about children, identity and status contributed to their vulnerability in conflicts. Lack of support from significant others and lack of trust in the other party also reinforced feelings of vulnerability.

In the midst of  conflict, men become unclear as to what women are trying to communicate because women tend to go around the world to make a colorful description of their side of the argument. Thus, it would be helpful if some females could simply get to the point! Studies reveal that during the course of the conflict, women talked in-depth and at length about the context of the dispute, particularly focusing on their involvement in the relationship with the other party. Moreover, men often speak with less emotional intensity and more logic in formulating their position regarding the argument. Men used more rational, linear and legalistic language to talk about their disputes. Women talked about fairness in a way that incorporated both their material interests and the network of relationships in the dispute.

Siamese Cats – Strategies and Solutions

The Siamese is the quintessential cat: this elegant, lithe feline has been the subject of many myths and legends throughout the ages, and it remains among the most popular breeds of cat. More specifically, the Seal Point Siamese is very verbal, intelligent, and displays its moods more obviously than most. On our sixth wedding anniversary we had planned to purchase a Seal Point Siamese kitten, however, we quickly changed our minds the moment we saw only two kittens left in the litter. Once the pet owner took the kittens out of the cage they initially acted intoxicated because they had been in such close quarters, but they suddenly began to play with one another and melted our hearts! Needless to say, we brought both kittens home with us. We attempted to find suitable names for these adorable kittens and initially I wanted to name them Chopin and Chardonay due to my passion for the poet of the piano and French and California wines. However, my husband is British and he wanted to incorporate the English cockney language and use the famous saying: Brahms and Liszt got pissed which means they got drunk! We compromised on my love for the classical composers and the cockney language used in English villages and pubs.

Likewise the gender gap will continue to play a vital role in how couples negotiate and compromise. Women and men in interpersonal relationships will inevitably experience conflict. It does not mean that this will lead to separation or divorce. It simply means that they will not see eye to eye on all of the issues. However, because of the risk factors previously discussed such as feeling vulnerable, the emotional intensity during the course of the conflict may be challenging. First of all, establish a relational goal prior to discussing the conflict and this may call for a time out to cool down and collect your thoughts and ideas. Emotional distancing may allow both partners the opportunity to formulate their ideas and facilitate the conversation. During this initial stage, each partner may want to spend some time reflecting on their specific accountability over the dispute and do a personal assessment by taking responsibility. By and large, women appear more critical than men during conflict, and it is better to approach the conflict by using the sandwich theory. As an illustration, get to the meat of the matter last by taking the two slices of bread and presenting a positive approach to your partner such as “I feel that I was inconsiderate when I did not listen to your position and I would like to take responsibility for being hasty in drawing conclusions.” Lastly, articulate the meat of the matter such as “I would like for you to understand that when you raise your voice inflection, I become nervous and I cannot respond to your concerns as well.” It is important to not damage the relationship that you have established with your partner by saying unkind words that you may regret later.
Secondly, do not build a triangle where you contact others to process an issue that should be between you and your partner. Consider the implications or the consequences of involving your friends and family. The objective is to build an intimate and conducive communication climate between you and your significant other. Triangulation only incorporates more stress for the third party person and hinders the communication process for you and your partner.

Thirdly, avoid being passive-aggressive with your partner by acting out your feelings versus communicating them in an assertive manner. Over the years in private practice, I often hear men report more often than women that they become very frustrated when their wives clam up and will not talk to them or cut them off sexually. Clearly, either party may participate in acting out their feelings versus learning to articulate what they are experiencing. In fact, during the initial course of psychotherapy, individuals may act out their emotions by engaging in some addictive or unhealthy behaviors such as shopping too much, eating too much, or drinking too much. Once new coping skills or stress management skills are introduced, the patient appears to decrease the frequency of the aforementioned behaviors. Lastly, both partners may want to educate themselves on the aforementioned communication styles and the gender differences and take this into account during the conflict resolution.