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3 Communication Tools to Help Resolve Any Heated Disagreement

Learn the three tools that make any difficult conversation feel like a breeze.

Whether in the workplace or at home, miscommunications happen.
Because what we say isn’t always what we mean, if someone perceives they are being judged or attacked, people get defensive.
Issues escalate, with each person wanting to “win”.
Which leads to further misunderstandings.
As a mediator and negotiation trainer for startup entrepreneurs, I train founders in high-stakes conflict management tactics to de-escalate issues while collaboratively disagreeing with someone.
These three tools can help resolve any heated disagreement you find yourself in:                                      LOOPING
Looping is a tool that provides a safe environment so the other person feels “heard.”
As the name suggests, you “loop” back the exact words that the other person has said, which has a two-fold benefit:

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

(2) If not, they can correct you.

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

Tasha: (Irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought you said you would pick it up on your way home from work.”

Albert: (Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! It slipped my mind.

Tasha: (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: (Defensive) “Hey now! I think of you. Why do you think I put in such long hours?!”

This is how simple misunderstands snowball into full-blown flights.
Now, by using looping, Albert could make the situation / conversation more productive:

Tasha: (Irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought you said you would pick it up on your way home from work.”

Albert: (Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! It slipped my mind.

Tasha: (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: (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) “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. Maybe next time you can just send me a reminder text so I don’t forget?”

You should start a loop with “If I hear you correctly…” so as to invite feedback from the other side in case you did not.
This sets the stage for collaborative problem-solving.

                      REFRAMING

This tool takes the “bite” out of judging or blaming statements so you can have a dialogue around what is really bothering a person.
Let’s go back to Tasha and Albert’s case for an example:

Tasha: (Irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought you said you would pick it up on your way home from work.”

Albert: (Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! It slipped my mind.

Tasha: (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: (Accommodating) “Hey! I understand why you’re upset. You think my forgetting means I don’t listen to your words / respect you, but I want you to know that I simply forgot. Forgive me. I don’t want this ruining 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.”

Albert: (neutral): “Thank you, I’d appreciate that. ”

Albert successfully reframes the “selective hearing” statement by saying “You think my forgetting means I don’t respect you…”, which gets to the heart of what Tasha was feeling: disrespect.
By not responding to the negative statement being thrown at him, Albert neutralizes it, switching the communication from “blame game” to one of mutual respect and responsibility.

                     DEFLECTION

This tool is unlike the other two in that it is not used to make the other feel heard but creates space if the other person continues rambling so you too can get a word in.
This is how it would play out with Albert & Tasha:

Tasha: (Irritated) “Where’s the milk?! I thought you said you would pick it up on your way home from work.”

Albert: (Defensively) “I’m sorry. Work was super crazy today! It slipped my mind.

Tasha: (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: (Defensive) “Hey! I understand why you’d be upset. But work was really overwhelming today.

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

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

Tasha: (Annoyed) “And here I am constantly thinking about how to make your life easier!

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 active listening skills to go underneath the presenting issues.
Albert also inserted a request for a pause with his deflection, which 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. Disagreements usually result from misunderstandings. And these tools help you stay present so you can listen correctly to help resolve those heated disagreements you find yourself in!

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