Act Now Project Presents: How to have difficult meaningful dialogue

It’s easy to tell when the body is in conflict: the pulse quickens, it gets warm all of the sudden and maybe a deep pressure begins to form in the chest.

Anxiety, which is a common symptom of conflict, brings about many different kinds of stress in everyday life.

On April 16, the Act Now Project sponsored a workshop teaching students the skills necessary to send and receive difficult information when these types of symptoms ail the body.

“After all this experience dealing with conflict, I still try to avoid it,” said Larry Hauder, a certified professional mediator working for Common Ground Conciliation Services. “Though I know how to handle it if it somehow comes up.”

Conflict is defined as a relationship between two or more parties who have, or think they have, incompatible goals.

“Not much is predictable about conflict except its escalation,” said Sarah Hooley, also a certified mediator working for Common Ground.

Often, when people engage in conflict, they go through a number of stages.

After personalizing an issue someone might prolificate the issue by digging up dirt on another individual. When they begin to share what they’ve found with a third party it becomes triangulation.

According to Hooley, this is a dangerous symptom of anxiety. Other stages include: attack and counterattack, fight or flight and complete polarization.

More times than not, when someone is in the middle of a difficult conversation, the only thing they hear is the other person’s position to the argument.

“That’s what we want to change,” Hooley said.

During these conversations there’s an idea in the person’s head about what they can do to fix the situation, which is usually all they say.

Hooley uses a diagram called the “Onion Model” to show the different levels of listening.

In these difficult conversations people must listen past the other person’s position in the argument and their interests to see what basic human need the individual is asking to be fulfilled.

“Listening is about gaining understanding, about wanting to understand,” Hooley said.

The workshop also focused on how to present difficult information.

“Sometimes the information you have to share can be difficult and loaded with emotion,” Hauder said. “How to present that information is key.”

Oftentimes people see behavior and are quick to label it but it’s important to realize the bigger picture while in the heat of the moment.

Hauder believes individuals in these circumstances have choices which they don’t always see. These options are as simple as letting the other person know how they feel or telling them their basic needs at the moment.

Participants of the workshop spent time instructured group situations discussing hot topics around campus while working on these new skills.

“The goal was to have them leave this room saying, I’ve done this, I can do it,” Hauder said. “That they have some practical skills they didn’t have when they came in.”

About the author  ⁄ Sean Bunce

Sean Bunce

Sean is one of the assistant editors with The Arbiter. He enjoys going on adventures with his dog Bandit and writing short stories. One day he plans to travel the world.