Asking for your help …

Over the years I’ve been developing a little handout on communication guidelines. I’ve been thinking it could be especially useful when people are gathering to discuss my new book and others like it. So after the jump, I’ll post the current draft. If you’d like to edit one or more of the items, or add an additional item, would you do so? If you post your edits as replies on my facebook page, I’ll be able to incorporate them in the future. Also, if you have books or website resources to recommend on this subject, please let me know. Thanks, all!

DRAFT Group Communication and Conflict Guidelines DRAFT
Conflict can be destructive in a group, but it can also be constructive and instructive. The goal for group leaders should be to avoid destructive conflict when possible, and to transform destructive conflict into constructive and instructive conflict when necessary. Group members can use these “Ten Commandments” to train themselves in patterns of constructive communication so destructive conflict can be avoided. And when destructive conflict arises, they can be use these guidelines to evaluate what went wrong, learn from the experience, and re-set healthy norms.
1. Thou shalt listen actively, ask questions, and refrain from giving advice.
Listen to understand, not to assess agreement or disagreement. Put what others say into your own words to test your understanding. Ask them to do the same. When you are confused, ask a question or offer a paraphrase for them to affirm or rephrase.
Can you tell me more about that? I’m not sure I understand.
Let’s see if I really understand you. You’re saying that …
Are you saying …?
Could you try to restate my position in your own words, so I can be sure I’ve communicated clearly enough?
2. Thou shalt understand and express difference instead of mere disagreement or judgment.
Instead of expressing win-lose disagreement or making a judgment on another person’s viewpoint, express your differing opinion as an additional or alternative understanding. Instead of telling someone they’re wrong, tell them you see it differently and explain how you see it. Then invite their feedback. Try to articulate where your differences lie in terms that both parties would agree to, and demonstrate respectful difference.
That’s interesting. I think I see it a little differently…. Is there any common ground between our two viewpoints? Where do our differences lie?
Here’s another way of explaining the situation.
So for you …. And for me …. Our essential difference is …
So, we understand where we differ, and we can respect our right to differ with one another.
3. Thou shalt listen for and report emotions as well as ideas, and ask for or offer help when necessary.
Share with people how you’re doing, what you’re feeling, and how your energy level is, so that your colleagues can better understand you. And allow – but don’t pressure – them to do the same. Make your needs or wishes overt and clear if possible.
It sounds like you feel … Wow, that must have felt …
How do you feel about what I just said?
I feel a bit ______ now, because my need for ________ isn’t being met. Would you be willing to ___________.
As I hear you speak, I feel ….
My energy level is a bit low. Could we take a break?
If I seem unusually quiet in today’s meeting, it’s because …
You’ve seemed unusually quiet today. I’m concerned that we’ve offended you in some way.
4. Thou shalt play for win-win, not win-lose or lose-lose.
Based on your awareness of our interconnectedness, let your goal be win-win. Avoid attacking or defending and us-them thinking. Keep short accounts – bring out your mistakes and hurts, and ask or offer forgiveness as necessary. Postpone or sideline issues that will obstruct progress.
I feel a bit defensive at this moment, which might be a sign that we may be mis-communicating.
I’m sorry. I think I made you uncomfortable by saying …
When you said ________, I felt __________. Can you see why I would feel that way?
I don’t feel that you’ve understood me yet, but it’s OK for now. Maybe we can come back to this later.
I’m satisfied with this decision. Are you?
I can tell you’re satisfied with this conclusion, but I’m not there yet. Could we work a little more on this?
5. Thou shalt not blame, shame, or demonize others, or victimize yourself.
Sarcasm, personal insults, derisive language, and insults are marks of desperation and should be avoided. When participants slip into this kind of language, others can gently remind them.
I’m concerned our conversation has shifted toward demonizing others. Would you agree?
Is there a way you could say that without using the term _________, which would be taken as an insult?
I just used the word __________, but I realize that’s not the most helpful word to use. Instead, I’d like to say _________.
Sometimes I just let my ideas get steamrolled or marginalized, but I really feel I need to propose this once more.
6. Thou shalt avoid absolutizing, and thou shalt use softening statements when appropriate.
They always … She never … You always … I never … These statements are more than likely false and rarely helpful. Softening statements can keep the focus on the conversation, and not on the status, pride, or ego of a particular speaker.
They have been known to …
She seldom if ever …
I try to avoid …
I may be wrong, but …
I may be overstating the case here, but …
Let me think out loud, knowing that I’ll probably get it wrong the first time …
7. That shalt seek to like and learn with “the other,” and shalt find agreement along with disagreement when possible.
Communicate to win friendship, not arguments. Others will care how much you know when they know how much you care. Remember that diversity of opinion means an opportunity for everyone to learn and grow, regardless of whether anyone is right or wrong.
I’ve never really had the chance to understand where you’re coming from …
Even though I don’t agree with your conclusion, I find you a charming person.
I’m impressed with your passion and sincerity, even though I’m not convinced by your line of thinking.
I’ve learned a lot from you this evening. I’ve really appreciate getting to know you better. Thank you.
So we both value _____ and believe _____, but disagree on _____.
We share a concern for ______, but differ on a solution.
8. Thou shalt not judge motives or reduce another person’s position to a stereotype.
Treating your interpretation of another person’s motives as a fact says more about you than about them. Judging motives invites defensiveness. Treating another person’s position as a caricature or pushing it to an absurd extreme shuts down communication. So instead of saying, “You’re just trying to …,” or “You must hate America!” or “So you’re a socialist …,” turn your judgment into a question or confession.
Can you explain why why it’s important for you to emphasize that point so strongly?
I’m tempted to say that you’re simply … but I don’t think that would be fair.
I’m tempted to react by judging your motives, but I don’t want to do that. Please help me understand your reasons for saying that.
9. Thou shalt separate content from process.
When people move outside of agreed upon communication guidelines, gently comment on the process, apart from the content.
You may be right in what you just said, but I’m concerned about that our conversation is taking an uncharitable tone.
I feel uncomfortable with what just happened.
Let’s stop for a moment, review our guidelines, and take a break before we continue.
Can we step back for a minute and talk about how our process is going?
10. Thou shalt not push too hard, thou shalt back down when appropriate, and thou shalt admit your communication mistakes, regardless of whether others do so.
We all make mistakes, and it helps when we admit that. Ego makes communication arduous; humility makes it a joy. Humor often helps too!
Before we continue, I just want to say that I feel bad about how I treated ______ a few minutes ago. I was wrong to ______, and I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?
I don’t want to push any harder on this, so I’ll just drop that point. If anyone thinks it’s worth coming back to later, that’s great, but I’m willing to move on.
Oops. I blew it when I said _______. My bad.
I’m sorry. I just reviewed our communication guidelines, and I think I’ve already violated numbers 1 – 9, so I’m at least trying to follow #10!