If you were to ask me to pick one factor that was responsible for conflict—I’d have to choose miscommunication, hands-down, as the primary factor. Why? Because miscommunication opens up the triangle of other factors that inevitably leads to conflict.
Let us discuss this miscommunication conflict triangle. Picture a triangle with miscommunication taking one side, fear taking another, and assumption taking the third side.
How does miscommunication happen? It happens when one side doesn’t communicate enough information to us, or we misinterpret the real meaning of their words. In either case, we get a different meaning of their words than they intended. With the advent of e-mail and IM chat, this is a becoming a common problem now-a-days because type-based communication is asynchronous communication, meaning that people do not communicate in real time—its essentially a telegram. Asynchronous communication does not allow for immediate feedback response, so our minds have to interpret what the other person is saying based upon their typed words alone. Although most common in typed-based communication, miscommunication can also occur in any type of communication setting. Another common type of miscommunication is no communication or a lack of communication.
People always fear the worst outcome. In miscommunication, the mind will fill in the missing information with their own creative insight, which is often fear-based. Think of the husband who is out late and forgets to call his wife. Because there is a lack of communication there, she begins to worry and her mind immediately switches to fear mode. Self-talk occurs and it takes the form of her own fears. Did something happen to him? Is he cheating on me? Our minds will always think of the worst possible outcomes based on our fears and insecurities.
Assumption Believed As Truth
Our minds need logical explanations to events. One of our most basic needs is the need to have answers and the need for reasons and explanations. Absent those needs, our minds switch to a fear-based mode where we have to satisfy our need for answers with that of assumption. Assumption is a derivative of fear because we always assume the worst based on our fears and insecurities. Assumption therefore fulfills our need for a logical explanation for the unexplainable event and we tend to become locked into that assumption, believing it as truth. The wife, who might be insecure about their relationship, might remember the time when she caught her husband flirting with the secretary, and her fears will drive her to make the assumption that her husband must have gone out to meet her.
What To Do?
When we are faced with miscommunication, we must keep our minds open to additional possibilities without adopting a certain truth about the other person until we know exactly from them what they are thinking. How can this be accomplished? Well, your fears and assumptions will automatically kick in. There is no way to fend against that because that is how our minds are wired. Instead of adopting those assumptions as the truth however, simply acknowledge those assumptions as one possibility out of a number of possibilities. List other possibilities with your assumptions and acknowledge them all without judging or evaluating them. Simply tell yourself, “These are all possible, but we don’t know the truth yet, so I won’t lock myself into any one of them.” By keeping your mind open to additional possibilities, you can break the assumption triangle and prevent miscommunication conflict from happening.
Tristan Loo is a conflict management expert and founder of Alternative Conflict Resolution Services in San Diego, California. He’s the author of Street Negotiation–How To Resolve Any Conflict Anytime. Tristan uses his law enforcement experience to train others in the prinicples of defusing conflict and reaching agreements. Visit his website at http://www.acrsonline.com or e-mail him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
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