Welcome back. Currently, we're focusing on conflict and negotiation in our group work, figuring out how we can communicate better in those difficult situations that are inevitably going to come up in our groups. We can do our best to prevent conflict and we can even try to avoid it when it comes up, but eventually, most conflicts need to be addressed and confronted. You have to engage. Otherwise, the alternatives are simply to keep your distance from the group or let the conflict fester, leading to a downward spiral of group dysfunctionality. And those simply are not viable alternatives for most of us in our group work, so we have to communicate in ways that help us resolve or at least manage conflicts so we can get on with the important work our groups need to accomplish. Last time, we looked at how groups can have a good fight, emphasizing the need to engage in constructive conflict that stays focused on the issues rather than destructive interpersonal conflict that can really damage our group dynamics, and communication strategies that can help us do this more effectively. Now we turn our attention towards the nitty gritty details of how we actually interact with each other and the words we choose in a conflict situation. We know from module one in our rethinking of communication that it's better for us to understand communication as a process of social construction, where our language doesn't just reflect reality but also creates reality, our social worlds. Of course, we're not saying that we can just talk our way in or out of any situation or that everything is just about perception or how we talk about it. No. There are boundaries on what we can accomplish in our communication, and the material world certainly has a way of pushing back despite what we want. But so much of communication is about meaning, interpretation, and understanding, not just transmitting information. And this is especially true in conflict situations. After all, aren't so many of the conflicts you've been involved in not just about what someone said but instead about what they meant? And this is all about how people construct their social worlds through language and communication. So in conflict situations, we have to choose our words carefully. But I'm not just gonna offer a list of words you should or shouldn't say. Obviously, I can't even begin to anticipate the kinds of conflict situations you will encounter. And since communication is so contextual, the right words in one situation could be the wrong words in another situation and vice versa. Instead, let's take a different approach. Let's see if we can ask the right questions and identify some key principles that can lead us to the right words to choose in a variety of situations. Remember, with human communication and group dynamics, we're working in the realm of probability here, not the periodic table of communication elements as if you can combine various components and always get the same outcome. Instead, we're trying to increase the likelihood of more favorable outcomes more often. And there are some specific things we can do to make that happen. To begin, let's consider a series of related questions we can have at the ready when we recognize we're in a conflict situation with our group, questions that will put us in a better mindset to help us choose better words in most situations, questions that I use all the time in my groups to help manage and respond to conflicts we experience. First question to ask yourself, "What do I want to say?" versus "What do I want to accomplish?" This is about recognizing the difference between expression and production in our communication and the difference between the content and relationship levels of communication we learned about in module one. So often we are focused on what we want to say, what we want to express, especially if it's a conflict situation that directly involves us. It's our decision that's being questioned, our intentions that are being doubted, our idea that is being criticized, and emotions are running high. Surely, you have something you want to say in these situations. But will expressing those thoughts help you achieve what you're trying to accomplish? I'll give you an example. I lead a small group of teaching assistants that make up the instructional team for the big lecture class that I teach here at the University of Colorado. I teach the lecture, the teaching assistants teach these smaller breakout classes, and we meet each week to discuss what's going on in the course and to prepare for our upcoming classes. Occasionally, we have a conflict when one of the teaching assistants makes a mistake or doesn't follow through on a responsibility. Admittedly, I'm pretty frustrated, and there's definitely something I want to say to this person and it isn't always nice. But what I want to say is at odds with what I'm trying to accomplish as the supervising professor of this class, namely, maintaining a functional instructional team that has good rapport with each other and that I can trust and developing these graduate students as competent educators and productive members of our academic department. So when I focus on what I'm trying to accomplish and not just on what I want to say, I usually choose better words in those conflict situations. A second question we can ask ourselves when conflict arises, "What are we making together and how could I frame things differently?" This is about recognizing how our communication with each other is always building social realities, social worlds, based on meaning and interpretation. And framing is a quality of communication that influences others to accept one interpretation over another. In the same way that a photographer includes or excludes things from view or brings things in or out of focus, words have the ability to frame how people understand the issues we're discussing. Third, consider asking yourself, "Does this need to be said by me right now?" This is a great set of questions popularized by the comedian Craig Ferguson, and it's helped me in so many conflict situations. Sometimes, the best words are the ones you don't even say or at least not in the moment. It's frustrating how many conflicts are started or continued because someone had to sneak in that one extra comment that probably didn't need to be said – they just couldn't help themselves. We think the issue was so important that it warrants our input right now. Sometimes the answer is yes to all three of these questions. I do need to say something and I need to say it now. But so many issues will simply go away or diffuse if we just keep our mouths shut or let someone else address the issue or wait till a more appropriate time to bring it back up. Additionally, when you're in a conflict situation, ask yourself another question, "What is this conflict really about?" This question is all about understanding the broader context of a dispute. Sometimes, a group member's perceived stubbornness is really about how a new idea threatens another project they're working on, or their resistance to change is really about the negative experience they had with the previous change initiative. Don't make the mistake of thinking that a conflict is simply about what's going on in this moment right now. Of course, we'll never fully know or understand all the complexities and nuances of every situation, but you'll choose better words in a conflict if you appreciate the larger contextual factors surrounding the issue. Furthermore, ask yourself this, "What question can I ask in this conflict situation instead of what statement can I make?" Most people want to be understood, and they welcome opportunities to clarify their positions. Giving people opportunities to do this can defuse some of the tension in a conflict and help create new paths forward. Can you help me understand? Can you explain more about? Can you clarify why? Asking questions is more invitational versus adversarial. It invites people to join with you in developing a shared understanding of the situation rather than taking a declarative position apart from them. Of course, keep in mind that asking questions is different than questioning, which is just making statements under the guise of a question mark. But authentic questions are a good word choice for helping us manage and resolve conflicts in our groups. Finally, we need to consider what role we play in any conflict and how others may perceive us in these conflict situations. One of my favorite bumper stickers says, "The common denominator in all your dysfunctional relationships is you!" It's tempting to think about conflict in terms of what's wrong with everyone else, but at some point, we have to look in the mirror. So a good question to ask is, "How can I be reflexive in this conflict situation?" Being reflexive means taking account for yourself in a conflict. Ever notice how we're pretty good at figuring out what other people should do in a particular situation? Like when observing the characters in a movie or TV show or even discussing what your friends or colleagues are doing. But we're not always very good at applying this insight to ourselves. That's because it's difficult to get outside of ourselves, so to speak, and see ourselves as others do when they observe our behavior, especially when emotions are running high. But if you can do this, if you can step back and see yourself as a character in the unfolding drama from the outside, if you can be reflexive, I bet you'll choose better words in a conflict situation. So if we want to choose the right words in a conflict situation, we have to be in the right mindset. And we can do that by asking better questions, questions that orient us towards the realities of social construction, the relationship level of communication, and the importance of context. Moving towards communication is something we do with, not just to, other people in our groups. Next, we'll transition to the topic of negotiation. There will be many times when we have different ideas and interests from our group members, but we still need to reach consensus on a single decision or a single course of action. But how do we do that without things blowing up into a full-scale argument? The answer is that we have to learn and practice good negotiation skills, and that's what we'll focus on in our next video. I'll see you then.