Whether in the workplace or at home, communication fails for a variety of reasons.  

Ambiguities and misunderstandings can make communication suffer. And because what we say isn’t always what we mean, if someone perceives they are being judged or attacked they get defensive.

Issues quickly escalate and disagreements pit people against each other, each person wanting to “win” the argument.

This isn’t a healthy way of resolving the issue. If anything, it takes more time, energy, and mental processing to go from a winner take all model of resolving conflict to one where everyone can leave equally satisfied.

 

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.
— George Bernard Shaw

 

In my own work as a mediator and conflict coach, I have taught these tools to people as a way of de-escalating issues while maintaining a dialogue space that collaboratively disagrees and problem-solves the issue together.

When emotions are piqued, and rationality goes out the window, these tools will be your saving grace that keeps conversations productive toward resolution. 

LOOPING

Looping is a powerful tool to make sure that, when in a heated situation, the other person feels heard.

As the name suggests, you “loop” back the exact words that the other person has said. This has a two-fold benefit:

(1) The other person acknowledges you heard them correctly; OR

(2) If not, they can correct you.

Most people listen to respond, which creates an internal dialogue that doesn’t fully engage in active listening.

And active listening is a skill that takes time to develop and practice. Take Tasha and Albert’s situation as an example for why active listening is essential.

Albert has just come home from work, tired and exasperated, when Tasha asks why he forgot to pick up the milk she had asked him to pick up the day earlier.

Tasha: (Mildly irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought we agreed that you would pick it up on your way home from work yesterday.”

Albert: (Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! Something important came up and it slipped my mind.

Tasha: (More annoyed/emotional) “I can’t believe you! You always do this. If it’s work-related you’ll remember, but not when it’s me…”

Albert: (More Defensive) “Hey now! I always think of you and the family first. Why do you think I put in such long hours?!”

This is how most disagreements spiral out of control. No one wants to take the blame so Albert and Tasha will most likely battle it out until they can come to a place of mutual respect and understanding, which takes time and energy.

Looping would make this situation more productive. Here’s how it would be done if Albert did it:

Tasha: (Mildly irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought we agreed that you would pick it up on your way home from work yesterday.”

Albert: (Mildly Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! Something important came up and it slipped my mind.

Tasha: (More annoyed/emotional) “I can’t believe you! You always do this. If it’s work-related you’ll remember, but not when it’s me…”

Albert: (Mildly Defensive) “Hey! I understand why you’d be upset. If I hear you correctly you believe me not bringing home the milk means I don’t care about you or the family, which just isn’t true.”

Tasha: (Less annoyed/emotional) “Yes that’s correct. I also want to be acknowledged and appreciated, and sometimes that’s as simple as you remembering to bring home the milk.”

Albert: (neutral): “Totally, I understand. Things are getting really rough at the office, so maybe next time you can just send me a reminder text so I don’t forget.”

The bold indicates where Albert successfully looped.

To be effective, and to guarantee that the other person feels heard, you should start a loop with “If I hear you correctly…” statement so as to invite feedback from the other side in case you did not.

It may feel disingenuous to say and even redundant to say, but it’s essential to the feeling “heard” process that eludes most conflict management.

 

Tragedy, for me, is not a conflict between right and wrong, but between two different kinds of right.
— Peter Shaffer

 

REFRAMING

This is my favorite tool to use.

It takes the “bite” out of judging or blaming statements when things get heated so you can get down to the essence of what is being said.

By neutralizing the negative sentiment in the statement, a person who can reframe successfully will guarantee that the difficult conversation moves forward productively.

Much like looping, reframing requires a mindset of active listening to be done effectively - otherwise what you reframe may not be what was actually meant by the statement.

Let’s go back to Albert & Tasha's predicament to see how this would play out:

Tasha: (Mildly irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought we agreed that you would pick it up on your way home from work yesterday.”

Albert: (Mildly Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! Something important came up and it slipped my mind.

Tasha: (More annoyed) “I can’t believe you! You’re always doing this. I swear you’re like a monkey with selective hearing that only ever suits you! If I didn’t love you so much I would just leave you!”

Albert: (Mildly Accommodating) “Hey! I understand why you’d be upset. You think my forgetting means I don’t respect you and listen to your words, but I want you to know that I simply forgot. Forgive me. I don’t want my silly forgetting to ruin our evening.”

Tasha: (Less annoyed) “I forgive you. I just want my words to matter too, you know? It’s not that big of a deal. Next time I’ll remember to send you a follow up text because I know work can be stressful sometimes.”

Albert: (neutral): “Thank you, I would really appreciate that. ”

The first bold statement is the judging/blaming statement that Albert must reframe in order to successfully move the conversation forward, which he does in second bold section.

The added apology also probably worked to Albert’s favor in making sure that Lisa feels heard.

By not responding to the negative statement being thrown at him, and neutralizing it, Albert quickly changes the communication landscape; it shifts from a “blame game” to one of mutual respect and responsibility, ending the dispute on good terms.

 

Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.
— Ronald Reagan

 

DEFLECTION

This tool is unlike the other two in that it is not used to make the other feel heard but creates space, in case the other person continues rambling, so you too can get a word in.

As I always like to say: not every statement made deserves a response.  

Sometimes, since the story that is being created and articulated in a person’s head is so emotionally intense, deflection works as a medium of preserving a healthy dialogue so you don’t get lost in their story.

Let’s see how it would play out with Albert & Tasha.

Tasha: (Mildly irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought we agreed that you would pick it up on your way home from work yesterday.”

Albert: (Mildly Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! Something important came up and it slipped my mind.

Tasha: (More annoyed) “I can’t believe you! You always do this. If it’s work-related you’ll remember, but not when it’s me…”

Albert: (Mildly Defensive) “Hey! I understand why you’d be upset. But work was really overwhelming today. The boss even yelled at one employee.

Tasha: (Very annoyed) “No! You don’t listen to me. It’s always work this, work that!”

Albert: (Mildly Defensive): “Look, I hear you! I know you feel like work always takes priority over you but…”

Tasha: (Still annoyed) “And here I stay constantly thinking about how to make your life easier. Can’t you just listen to me once?!”

Albert: (Neutral) “I think we should get back to the issue which was me not bringing home the milk. I understand how it could upset you. Know that I didn’t mean to do it intentionally. Maybe we should take a pause and come back to this after we’ve taken ten minutes to just cool off. What do you say?

Deflection means staying aware throughout the whole process and using those active listening skills to not get swept up in the flow of the heated exchange.

Albert also inserted a request for a pause with his deflection which, used in tandem, has the added affect of creating space so both sides can return to a rational state of mind to discuss resolution.

Bottom line: the use of these tools can be a tremendous lifesaver when discussing sensitive issues. All three are predicated on the understanding that participants should use active-listening skills to properly loop, reframe, or deflect. These tools will only serve you if you can actually listen to what the other is saying!

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