Conquering Communication Conflict

“In a conflict, being willing to change allows you to move from a point of view to a viewing point—a higher, more expansive place from which you can see both sides.”

~Thomas Crum

“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak. Courage is also what it takes
 to sit down and listen.”

~Winston Churchill

“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Question: What do Facebook “friends” in an election year have in common with parents telling their five-year old to eat her brussels sprouts? Answer: Conflict! We can all relate to this on some level, right? Whether it’s conflict with a boss, coworker, spouse, child, friend, parent, teacher, or even a next-door neighbor, the fact is conflict is a part of life! We aren’t going to always see eye-to-eye with everyone, and that’s okay. What matters is what we do (and how we react) when conflict arises. After all, great things can happen when we successfully work through it. 

In this, our final segment of our five-part series on mastering communication, I’ll tackle some common sources of conflict and offer some preventive and management strategies.

Although certainly not a complete list, here are some common sources of communication conflict:

  1. Viewpoint disagreements.
  2. Dislike of decisions.
  3. Misunderstandings.
  4. Messenger “packaging.”
  5. Goal differences.

Viewpoint Disagreements

Have you ever noticed how every four years there is a spike in disagreements? Hmm. Wonder why! Aside from politics, however, people have different points of view on a host of topics and that is healthy and normal. Our backgrounds, experiences, training, and passions inevitably result in a variety of perspectives—diversity that spices up our lives. But sometimes it gets a little too spicey and morphs into genuine conflict. Within families. Among friends. In our workplaces and communities. It’s always been this way, but now it’s exacerbated by social media. 

Is it possible to conquer our conflict? We believe it is. Here are our tips for managing these types of conflict, recognizing that some involve the message and others the messenger:

  • Focus on a goal of mutual understanding through respectful sharing. Be open to other points of view. Listen actively and ask follow-up and clarification questions. Think “share with” versus “talk to.” Allow all voices to be heard. It’s amazing how differently we listen if our goal isn’t first and foremost to convince others we’re right and they’re wrong. Bullying and shaming others for a different opinion will never win a convert. 
  • Explore common ground. In some cases, our philosophical (or other) differences are so great that they are irreconcilable. However, in others, people may actually have common goals but differ on the methods to achieve them. By searching for common ground on goals, it takes the “sting” out of the discussion about methods. 
  • Differentiate fact from opinion. Often people share opinions but state them as fact. That doesn’t go over well. Encourage all sides to delineate the two. And remember, our opinions are often framed by the media we consume and that may result in significant bias. Be sure your sources are diverse and reliable. 
  • Clarify and confirm. Often, miscommunication occurs because of misunderstandings. When there are viewpoint disagreements, it pays to periodically confirm what we are hearing from the other party, especially if their nonverbal cues indicate concern or confusion.
  • Respectfully agree to disagree. Our differences may still exist after a quality conversation/communication. That’s perfectly okay—there’s nothing wrong with having different points of view. Conclude by sharing your appreciation for their input and perspective and strive to keep the communication channels open.   

Dislike of Decisions

Similar to the preceding scenario, conflict can occur when someone in a subordinate position (child, direct report) does not like, or is disappointed with, a decision made from a “superior.” Common examples are the teen who loses privileges after violating a curfew or an employee who was bypassed for a promotion in favor of someone else. The wise decision-maker will understand that the other party is disappointed, upset, or resentful and communicate with empathy and lots of listening. It is critical that the disappointed party feel heard (if they so choose) and be treated with dignity and respect. 

For the person in the subordinate (disappointed) position, the key is showing respect for the “superior’s” decision-making authority, seeking helpful feedback, and making the best out of the situation—hopefully seeing it as a growth and learning opportunity if appropriate. 


Who hasn’t experienced conflict stemming from a misunderstanding? Despite our efforts, sometimes our communications are misinterpreted, while other times, we misunderstand others. Either way, they make for difficult conversations and, at times, regret. No matter how many times we proofread a letter, email, or text, we can miss the mark because we cannot always correctly perceive how our audience is interpreting our message.

Here are some helpful tips when dealing with misunderstandings:

  • Give the other party the benefit of the doubt as you would want to receive from them. Often when we misunderstand someone, we make assumptions, or worse yet, assign bad intent. That’s not only unfair to the other party, but it also brings a destructive attitude into a supposedly rectifying conversation. These communications rarely go well, and inevitably end up with feelings of regret and shame. We all make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean we were trying to! You know what they say about assuming! 
  • Be extra certain the timing is right. If either you, or the other party, is upset, be sure it’s the right time for follow-up communication. This is especially important if there is a risk of either party assigning bad intent. In order for the communication to be constructive, all parties need to enter with cool heads and healthy state of mind. (Note parents!)
  • Be quick to apologize. Whether you or the other party were the one misunderstood, don’t hesitate to apologize for lack of clarity or a mistaken interpretation. That quickly takes the sting out of the situation. It also shows a willingness to move on.  

Messenger “Packaging”

Sometimes our communication conflict arises from how the message was packaged. Was it appropriate to write that communication versus share it orally? Was the tone of voice constructive and respectful? Was the body language positive and supportive of two-way conversation? Did the sender adequately understand and show respect to the audience? Was the timing of the communication appropriate? 

In most cases, when the messenger doesn’t come across well (as distinct from the message itself), it’s the result of a negative answer to one of the above questions. Thus, especially on important or sensitive communications, it’s important to get them right ahead of time. This will help to avoid those regrettable corrections. If it slips through the cracks, an apology and promise to do better next time are the order of the day.

Goal Differences

Occasionally there is conflict when the parties want something different from the conversation or communication. This irritating offense is common on social media. How many times do we see great information sharing punctuated by an obnoxious comment that attempts to “sell” the audience on their point of view. I don’t know anyone who likes being sold to when they were simply attempting to have a normal conversation. 

In these circumstances, it’s advisable to ignore the remark or to arrange a conversation where the goals are mutually agreed from the outset. When parties want something different from a conversation, it’s rarely constructive. 

Other General Tips

While the above apply to specific situations, here are some other conflict prevention/management strategies to keep in mind:

  1. Respect all parties’ right to be heard. That includes you, too! Whether it’s peer pressure, a challenge to your rights, personal safety, or position, it’s important to stand up for yourself. Sometimes, we allow others to intimidate or dominate us out of fear or insecurity. Also, certain personality types (especially the “S’s” in the DISC model) are so focused on “keeping the peace” that they risk being taken advantage of, especially by people with dominant personalities.
  2. Set appropriate boundaries. If there is disrespect, irrational behavior, or irreconcilable goals for the communication, it’s best to postpone it to a better, more constructive, time when our attitudes are right. 
  3. If you’re upset, pause for ten seconds before responding. It’s amazing what ten little seconds can do! If need be, pause the conversation for a cooling off period. Keep your tone respectful and calm (admittedly not always easy!). 
  4. Focus more on the difference than the person. More progress will be made this way. 
  5. The more sensitive the topic, the more it needs to be handled in person. Simply put, there’s too much at stake relying on written communication when there is conflict. 
  6. Stay constructive and humble at all times
  7. Don’t stuff your concernscommunicate them. Although we may not like conflict, it’s important to maintain your self-respect by sharing your thoughts/feelings. And who knows, the other person might be unaware of your concerns.  
  8. Remember, judgmental rants will never win a debate. Nor will bullying behavior. 
  9. Avoid toxic people. This is especially true of social media. Disengage. 
  10. Choose reconciliation over grudges wherever possible. When we harbor grudges and refuse to forgive, it can be like an all-consuming cancer. Strive for reconciliation whenever possible and don’t hesitate to seek support. Holding a grudge and/or refusing to ever speak to someone again will not make you feel better—it will feel like a burden that just won’t go away.

We hope you enjoyed this series on communication and that there were some nuggets you, your family and friends, and the children you guide can put to great use. 

Here’s to successful relationships and communication to you and yours.

Become a Masterful Communicator: Part Four

Written Communication: Issues and Fixes

“I didn’t mean it like that!” ~ Everyone 

All of us, at one time or another, have had the big written communication fail. Sometimes we’re the “messor,” and other times, we’re the “messee.” My earliest recollection was in seventh grade when I received a note from someone that said, “(so and so) told me to tell you she wants to break up with you.” Now, what exactly was I supposed to do with that?!? Some years later, I sent a special Valentine to a “potential” girlfriend made from a simple computer program I wrote. I thought I was clever and creative. She thought I spent waaaaaaay too much time on this card and got scared away. Despite my protestations to the contrary, the damage was done, and “we” were history. 

Now you have a good idea why I’m so sensitive to written communication breakdowns! And why I’m so bothered that they’re happening everywhere.  

Issues and Risks

What’s going on? Here are some obvious culprits, and I’m sure you can add to the list:

  • We’re communicating more through technology and less in person than ever before. In the absence of our tone of voice, nonverbal cues, and immediate feedback/two-way responses, misunderstandings and misinterpretations are commonplace. Our inability to hear the tone of voice is particularly damaging when an incorrect one is imposed by the receiver. Clarifications are also made difficult due to the lack of instantaneous give and take. As such, it takes longer to rectify mistakes.
  • Perhaps through a false sense of a protective shield, we are writing messages that are much more appropriately shared in person/orally. This includes content that is provocative, sensitive, and confidential. And, especially on social media, messages are often more bold, angry, disrespectful, impulsive, arrogant (counting opinion as fact), and divisive than is our general nature. We can come across as more direct than intended. Not good!  
  • Out of view, we are less sensitive to our audience and may not read from their perspective. When relationship strains exist, or when feelings may be hurt, written communication can be especially risky.
  • We forget to consider that written communications can end up in the “hands” of others without our knowledge or permission. Also, emails and social media posts are routinely monitored by current and prospective employers—certainly not our intended audience!
  • We can write more casually than the situation calls for.

Here’s a good example. I have a friend whose relationship with another was showing signs of strain. My friend was feeling judged and wanted to share her concerns. For various reasons, she chose to write a letter. Knowing both parties as I did, I discouraged my friend from sending it due to my perception of the risks of how it would be received without her tone of voice. Although my friend’s intentions were honorable, it proved to be a disaster. It was received defensively as I feared, and it took several years to restore their relationship. An all-too-common situation when we decide to write it out, rather than talk it out.


So, how can we reduce the risks of written communication fails? Here are some suggestions:

  1. When in doubt and the risks are high, prefer oral communication (in person or via technology). If, as the experts claim, nonverbal cues and tone are more powerful influences than our words, it’s worth considering. But if you must…
  2. Be sure your attitude is right. Avoid writing when you’re angry, emotional, or upset. This applies to writing you initiate or when you respond to social media posts. Consider sleeping on it or holding off until your emotions are in a better place. This will test your self-control, but it’s well worth the extra time. 
  3. Remember your audience. Few suggestions are more important than this, given that written communication is one-way and absent your voice tone. Package your message so it will be received openly and respectfully from your audience. This will not only help you communicate in a proper tone, but it will also greatly improve your content and word choice. This is especially important if your audience will likely perceive your content as “bad news” or upsetting. Avoid arrogance, condescension, and insensitive remarks like the plague.
  4. Don’t write something about someone else you would regret if they saw. Also, avoid sharing confidential information unless it’s approved and labeled as such.  
  5. Read it out loud before you press “send.” Once you’ve developed your initial draft, read it from the audience’s perspective in monotone fashion. This will help you make any needed last-minute adjustments (and correct errors!). Also, if you have a chance, run it by someone else for feedback to see whether your message will likely hit the target. They can offer invaluable perceptions, so take their comments to heart. These are helpful confirmations about whether this communication should be in writing at all. 
  6. Be sure to distinguish between fact and opinion.
  7. Ensure your writing style (casual vs. professional) is appropriate for the circumstances and audience. 
  8. Press “send” and expect the unexpected. Often, despite our best attempts, our message doesn’t come across as intended. Even if we’ve taken every precaution, some may misread your comments and react strongly. In these situations, it’s best to follow up with oral communication to avoid further misunderstandings. Or, in the case of social media when comments are with people you don’t know, think like the Beatles and let it be. 
  9. Take the issues and risks mentioned above to heart.

I hope these help your written communications be the best they can be and reduce the risk of breakdowns. Next time, I’ll tackle conflict management in the last of our five-part series, so stay tuned. (Just in case.) 

Become a Masterful Communicator: Part Three

Oral Communication Essentials

“Two monologues do not make a dialogue.” ~ Jeff Daly

In this, the third segment of our five-part series on mastering communication, I’ll tackle what sometimes seems like a lost art—oral communication. Our growing dependence on technology in our communications has come at cost, it would seem, to our verbal communications based on observation, pervasive complaints, and employer concerns. 

It needn’t be this way. After all, at least in theory, we should have fewer communication breakdowns, when done orally. The benefits, when compared with written communications, are profound:

  • We can observe important non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and body language
  • We hear the tone of voice, which adds style and emotion to our message and reinforces our words
  • We receive instant feedback and give-and-take with our audiences; misunderstandings can be swiftly corrected through clarifications and elaboration
  • Our communications are more naturally two-way in nature, which are especially important when topics are sensitive, provocative, or private in nature
  • We can engage, support, and encourage more deeply

Surely, written communication can be easier, less emotionally draining, and more efficient, but oral communications are easily more effective because of the above. 

Interestingly, some years ago, Performance Advantage conducted a survey to identify the greatest motivators in a workforce, from the perspective of employees. The top three responses are also highly relevant to this topic:

  1. Being appreciated and recognized
  2. Being involved in decisions/in the know 
  3. Being understood by an approachable boss

Considering the above, would oral or written communications most likely hit the mark? 


Before sharing our best oral communication tips, let’s identify our key goals and what makes communication effective. First, is mutual understanding. Note this doesn’t necessarily mean mutual agreementbut, rather, knowing each other’s position/perspectiveThis is made possible through give and take, elaboration, and clarification. Second, is mutual engagement. This is accomplished through active listening, follow-up questioning, approachability, empathy, humility, kindness, and mutual respect. All parties are made to feel heard. They are agreeable when disagreeing. Conversations are constructive. Communication is two-way. 

Strategies and Tactics

Keeping in mind the above goals, here are some of our best tips for winning oral communications:

  1. Enter with the right attitude. Before any communication can be constructive, all parties need to be in a positive frame of mind. That way, we can begin with a spirit of mutuality and maintain a proper tone. On the other hand, if we are angry, upset, tense, or emotionally charged, it’s best to have a cooling off period before we engage in conversation. This is particularly important for parent-child communication. If our timing is off, it can do more harm than good. 
  2. Be fully engaged at all times. Demonstrate through your words, tone, and non-verbals that you are committed to a positive conversation. Strive to let the other party do more of the talking. Focus on active listening and responding with genuine interest and follow-up questions. Avoid interruptions like the plague. 
  3. Think “share with” vs. “talk to.” One of the best ways to achieve mutual understanding is to have a sharing, collaborative mindset during the conversation. One of the most common communication complaints is when people feel they are being talked to instead of being a co-equal participant. (The first few lines of the song, “Everbody’s Talkin’” come to mind!) The resulting sense of disrespect breeds disengagement and resentment. Again, this is a huge issue with parent-child communications. How we say it can matter more than what we say.
  4. Be a student of your audience. It helps to know the personality makeup and background of our audience, to the extent possible in order to customize our communications and hit the mark. (We highly recommend the DISC personality test for this purpose.) 

    Additionally, knowing the context of our conversation and audience makeup help determine how formally/professionally/casually we should share our thoughts. Many young people are so accustomed to casual conversation that they have difficulty in more professional/adult contexts (e.g., job interviews). It’s important for them to learn how to adapt their communications to different audiences.  

Also, it’s essential to observe the facial expressions of our audience to ensure they are interested and correctly receiving our message. If there is misunderstanding, it often appears via expressions. When our audience seems confused or bothered, it pays to pause and ask if there are questions to provide the necessary clarification. Be sure you, and the children you are guiding, can identify expressions indicating boredom, confusion, irritation, distraction, and strong disagreement.  

  • Separate fact from opinion. Increasingly, communication breakdowns are occurring when emotionally charged topics are on the table. Thanks in large part to the editorialization of the news media, we are often guilty of stating as fact, what is in actuality opinion. We’ll have more to say on conflict resolution in our last part in the series, but for now, let’s all strive to keep these separate and to be respectful disagreers. 
  • Remember the three motivators. Previously, I mentioned the top three motivators of a workforce (being appreciated, valued for our input, and understood by an approachable boss) that apply so well to general oral communications, regardless of our audience. 

We invite you to check out our three books: What I Wish I Knew at 18: Life Lessons for the Road Ahead, Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World, and Wings Not Strings: Parenting Strategies to Let Go with Confidence, as each has extensive sections on communication. 

See you next time when we delve into written communication.