We’ve all experienced it on some level: When we are upset or engaged in conflict, we resort to emailing or texting rather than communicating in person. In today’s world, we have the ability to hide behind our technology and “communicate” from a distance. We think we are doing the right thing by letting cooler heads prevail, but are we really helping ourselves?
Sorry folks, but I’m here to tell you that this form of communication doesn’t resolve or reduce conflict, it creates and can even amplify problems. Case in point: How many times have you misinterpreted the tone of an email or a text, thinking that the other person was upset with you? Or, how many of you have gotten upset over a posting on social media only to later find out that the other person had a completely different intention that wasn’t nefarious? Did these misinterpretations cause further conflict or unnecessary bad feelings? Of course they did.
Professor Emeritus Albert Mehrabian from UCLA, an expert in non-verbal communication, tells us that when talking about feelings and attitudes, the meaning of a message is being transported mostly by non-verbal cues, not by the meaning of words. He states that:
- 38% of a message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is based upon the tone of voice of the person delivering the message; and
- 55% of a message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is based upon the facial expressions and body language of the person delivering the message; and
- 7% of the message pertaining to feelings and attitudes is based upon the actual words spoken.
The message I’m trying to convey to you (in words only, LOL) is that that when we resort to electronic communication and we are trying to convey feelings and attitudes, we are only using 7% of the communication that is available to us! Without hearing the tone of voice and without seeing the body language that accompanies the words and the tone, we have removed 93% of what is considered effective communication. Compromised communication greatly increases the chance of misinterpretation, confusion and conflict.
This dynamic can be very damaging to a relationship, whether it be at work or whether it be a parenting relationship after a separation. Much is at stake and many are unable to adequately address these conflicts on their own. A mediator may be your best option to quickly help you not only get past the underlying conflict, but also to help you develop your own set of skills to effectively avoid these problems in the future. How? By providing a safe, structured process that:
- Ensures that discussions contain all of the necessary elements of communication, both verbal and non-verbal; and
- Ensures, through the use of various techniques, that both parties are addressing all concerns in a way that will allow both to feel safe and comfortable with the outcome.
- Ensures that both parties discuss how they can avoid future conflicts and misunderstandings.
The end product of these facilitated discussions are greater understanding and trust between those in conflict and the outcome will be an enduring and durable agreement that will serve both parties in the future.
Remember, Mehrabian’s “rule” does not apply in all situations but only to circumstances where the communication is about feelings and attitudes. That is why I can adequately and objectively communicate with you through this written article about objective facts and theories. But feelings and attitudes are the primary focus of misunderstandings and conflict and when mired in conflict, we often become stuck and unable to overcome the situation. In those situations, the help of a third party trained in dispute resolution can be invaluable.