Monday, September 26, 2011

The Roy and Mark sock story – it is how you look at it

Perspective plays a part in solving and creating conflict. I have a son named Mark. As Mark grew, he wore the same size sock as I did. He also wore the same kind of white socks. This created a problem of identification – a small conflict – whose socks were whose. We had a solution that turned out to create a little humor.

The solution was to put an M on Mark’s socks and an R on my socks – simple and effective. However, occasionally, an R sock would be found on Mark or an M sock on me. One day, a visitor noted Mark padding around in a pair of socks with two different letters. He scratched his head and said, “I don’t quite understand. You have one foot labeled right and the other labeled wrong.” Obviously, from his view, the socks appeared to be labeled R and W.

It is all related to perspective. Like the man who was reported to have been  fired from the M & M plant because he kept throwing away all those candies marked with a “W.”

That brings up some important rules in conflict resolution as related to perspective.

1. Some ways of solving conflict may contribute to confusion or new conflicts (R and M – or is it a W sock?).

2. Everyone has a perspective of the issue that is often governed by his/her position.

3. Those perspectives may be very similar, partially the same, or even opposite.

4. Each of us tends to believe our perspective is the perspective..

5. Each of us operate from our perspective.

To be a successful negotiator or conflict resolver, it is important to understand the impact of perspective. It is also important to learn to be open, accepting, understanding, and even encouraging of the perspective of others.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

From communication to negotiation - dealing with conflict

We have been talking communication for several articles. Let us switch to another topic – conflict.

Although sometimes not recognized as such, we all live in conflict. It may be as small as a difference of opinion at home or a disagreement at the office, and as significant as war. It may be a father who is trying to provide adequate finances for his family, but cannot find a job. Workers who want better wages or benefits, but find their employer unwilling. Employers who would grant employees better wages and benefits, but can’t find the revenue. Conflict is often found in team members who have the same goals, but different opinions on how to reach those goals. Since differences – conflicts – are found everywhere, how do we deal with them?

First, it is important that we realize the positive and the negative sides of conflict. Individuals caught in conflict often have the opinion that whatever it takes, it would be wonderful to be rid of the distraction. They believe that without conflicting situations, things would run smoothly and progress faster. In fact, that is true. If everyone thinks the same way, things do move faster and usually smoother. However, there should be other considerations.

While smoothness and speed have their place, many differences don’t respond to quick fixes; fixes can be efficient but at the same time not necessarily effective.

Secondly, in many situations, without conflict, little progress is made. The conflict created by the increase in gasoline prices provided the pressure for more efficient vehicle engines. The conflict between two teams on the football field results in an exciting experience for many.

The critical point in the many conflicts we encounter is how we deal with them.

In the old west, the six-gun was a popular way to settle conflict. It was efficient, but not very productive. L. Randolph Lowry, past Director of the Institute for Dispute Resolution at Pepperdine University relates an amusing conflict-settling approach.

Randy was driving in Boston. He relates that a couple of drivers in nearby cars were obviously upset with each other. They were making hand gestures and shouting at each other. The cars proceeded until they reached a red light. The drivers got out of their cars and started beating on each other. The light turned green. They got back in their cars and drove away. Mr. Lowry noted that he really could not argue with the efficiency of that mode of dealing with conflict – we have this disagreement, and we are going to pursue it until the light turns green, and then we are out of here. A very efficient system. However, its application is limited.

Next week: ways of dealing with conflict.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Foster Cline's "Laughing In The Middle Of The Night

At 3:00 in the morning, old folks stir. Hermie gets up to take her Airbourne to stave off any possible chest cold, and I’m up to download some coffee in the middle of the night ‘cause that just what old guys do.

So, crawling back into bed, Hermie, asking about my coming to bed after she had turned in: “Honey, what time did you finally turn in last night?”

“About 12:00”

With slight reproach, she notes, “You probably watched a movie.”

“Yeah, I watched an old Star Trek movie.”

“What was it?”

Admitting it wasn’t necessarily worth a two hours out of my life, I admit, “It was about a ‘B’”

“About a bee?” she inquires.

“Yeah, about a ‘B’, I respond.

To me, she was showing surprising interest in a scifi flick and she asks, “Tell me about it!”

“Well,” I answer, it was about a possible clone of Captain Picard, and the clone’s threat to the Federation.”

“And it was about a bee?” My gosh, I think, she really is interested!

“Yeah, about a B”.

Surprisingly, she wants to know still more about a Star Trek movie of all things: “Well, tell me about it!”

I answer, surprised, “You want to know more!?”

Well, okay, “The clone was working with the Romulans, but they turned on the clone, so it all worked out and the Federation was saved.”

“But where does the bee come in?”

“Honey, it was an okay movie but it just wasn’t that great.”

“Yeah, but I still want to know about the bee.”

“Well, the special effects were okay, but the acting and story line….. I don’t know… It was just dated.”

With a little frustration, out of no-where, it seems to me, she says, “Just tell me about the buzzy bee.”

And all of a sudden the light of mutual misunderstanding dawns on us both, and we laugh and laugh.

Hermie says, “You ought to put this in the monthly contest about miscommunication.” And we fall back to sleep.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Communicating - understanding the culture

Ever hear anything like this?

Working with BNT is no picnic and I smell a rat. They always want an arm and a leg, and Joe, the lead man, always has a chip on his shoulder even though he is all bark and no bite. Sometimes, I think they need a taste of their own medicine, but there is no sense in beating a dead horse. Working out a deal will be no piece of cake, but it should be profitable.  I guess we shouldn’t count our chickens before they hatch.

In today’s world market, language differences are a common occurrence. Merely speaking another language does not ensure effective communication. According to David Boyd who teaches Mandarin Chinese at the United States Air Force Academy, it is critically important to understand the culture as well as the language. Professor Boyd spent two years in China, living, speaking, writing, reading, and studying Chinese history.

Obviously, we can’t all spend extensive time living in different sections of the country and of the world in order to communicate more effectively. However, there are some things that will help.

First, be sure that the message you send is plain and accurate. Say what you mean and don’t confuse it with idioms. It is always good to have someone review a hard copy of important communiques. If your administrative assistant doesn’t understand, chances are, others may have a problem.

Second, check for understanding. Don’t ask:” does everyone understand?” Do facilitate a short discussion regarding the issue.

Finally, if you are the recipient of communication that seems to be confusing, ask for clarification.

And, by the way, English is not the only language with idioms. Be aware, and beware. So, in dealing with this area, my only comment is: break a leg.