Improve Your Communication Skills & Resolve Conflict

As an introvert, I would rather hide away than address festering conflicts – whether in my personal or work-life.  But, you know, life is far easier if you face the problem head on and take steps to sort things out in an amicable way.

In this post, I’m talking about how to improve your communication skills with some tips to help you resolve conflict and nip problems in the bud.  It’s not easy but practice makes perfect!

4 Tricks for Talking to Anyone

Why is it so hard to talk to people?

Oddly enough, we’re communicating all the time. But living in the era of direct messages, tweets, emails, and texts, it’s becoming harder and harder to just talk to each other. The sad thing is, conversation is an art that’s needed more than ever.

To truly get ahead in business or your personal life, at some point, you need to know how to talk to other people using something more than text on a screen. If making conversation is intimidating to you, then use these tips to master the art of being able to talk to anyone, anywhere.

Ask More Interesting Questions

Rather than asking questions that can be answered with a ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ try asking questions requiring more complicated answers. For example, if you’re in a networking situation, learn something about the people you’re going to meet. Being able to ask specifically about a new project they’re developing leads to better and more interesting answers than a question along the lines of, “What’s new in your company” which is too broad to answer well.

Forget the Weather

The tendency of falling back on the weather as a topic of conversation is both tedious and a death knell to the interaction. Turn weather talks back around by asking a related question but also redirect the conversation at the same time, such as, “You’re right, it’s been pretty hot out. It makes me think of heading somewhere cooler. Tell me, where did you go on the best vacation you’ve ever had?”

Learn the Power of Adding On

This is a pretty simple technique where you take what someone else has said and add something to it, adding a question at the end. This helps keep things rolling even if someone else has stopped the conversation cold with a yes/no question or something about the weather. For example, if you’re asked if you saw the game last night, you might say, “Yes, that play at the end was really something.  It reminded me of a time when I went to see them play in person. Tell me, what’s the best game you ever saw?”

Pay Attention to the Details

Become the person who notices when the situation is going south. Be ready to jump in with a question or a new topic when you see people are getting uncomfortable with the situation. For a quick fix, pay a compliment. It puts the focus on someone else entirely and provides a handy distraction.

Becoming a great conversationalist will become more natural with practice. Remember, the important thing is to relax, and be your friendly, personable self. By paying attention to the discussion and taking some care in choosing your words, you’ll find yourself having great conversation in no time.

Are You a Hot Head?

While it’s important to express emotions, if you are constantly angry, this can be harmful to your health. You could be experiencing an abnormal amount of stress. It is a well-known fact that stress can rob people of their abilities to fend off diseases. If you don’t do anything about the stress, and by extension, the anger, you could likely wind up in the hospital or worse, it can kill you.

Overly angry people are not fun to be around, either. On the surface, these people may feel they don’t care if they are liked or not. But, if fundamentally something is going on that prevents them from being happy, they will excuse it as being part of their personality. That’s a shame because they are missing out on wonderful experiences and people in their lives.

There’s a reason why anger management seminars and counselling exist. Because of the health consequences, these specialists can help people deal with the issue and try to get back on track to a happy life. No one who is angry all the time is happy! If you find yourself constantly being angry with people, you could be a good candidate for this type of treatment. Don’t wait because the longer you let it go, the harder it will be for the treatment to work. They will have to break down the barriers to what is making you so angry.

Your family probably accepts you for who you are. But imagine if you can shed the angry persona. Think about how happy you could make your family. The time you spend with them when you do so is likely to be higher quality time. That alone is worth doing something about your anger issues.

All this is not to say that you don’t have the right to be angry once in a while. It happens to everyone, and small amounts are healthy for you. But, if you are angrier than you are happy, this is a clear indication that you may need to do something about it. You probably don’t get much response from people after being angry for so long. This may even make you more frustrated and angrier. It becomes a negative feedback loop and the cycle never breaks.

Only you can decide if your anger is an issue. Your spouse and your kids may hint at it, and you may have been told by your job that you need an attitude adjustment. However, unless you can recognize that there is a problem, be prepared to stay angry longer.

Dealing with Difficult People

 

When you are a people person, you’re going to often come across difficult people. These are people who won’t yield for any reason. They are unreasonable and will likely complain about everything. How can you deal with these people?

Some people become apathetic in their situations. They used to care but felt something or someone along the way just didn’t care. Their reasoning is why should they? When this is the case, you can usually break down the barriers by getting to the root of the problem. Ask questions of this person. Find out what it is that is causing them not to care anymore.

For others who simply have a bad attitude, you have to handle this situation more delicately. The one thing you don’t want to do is give in to them so readily. Sometimes, people will do this because they bark the loudest. But, you should only let them have their way if the solution is the correct one, not just because they are barking.

One of the main solutions in dealing with difficult people is to have alternative solutions. For instance, if someone complains that a particular solution won’t work, first ask why. If they come up with a valid reason, then offer alternatives. If they continue to shoot down every suggestion you produce, ask them to come up with a solution.

Dealing with difficult bosses is a tougher situation as the boss has the upper hand. Sometimes, it can be a temporary situation where the boss is dealing with personal problems. If you can get him or her to talk about it, you may be able to diffuse the situation.

Some bosses are unreasonable or incompetent. It is just their nature, and there’s not much you will be able to do or say to change that. In this case, hopefully, you have alternatives for your employment. Maybe you can get a transfer to a new department or look for a job at another company. If all else fails, you can try to start a business. With the internet, this is easier to do than ever before.

When dealing with difficult people, you have to try to get to the cause. It’s only then that you will be able to effectively determine whether you can help the person overcome some obstacle that is making him or her be difficult. It will also let you determine if you need to move on from that person or not.

How to Run a Meeting

If you are responsible for running meetings, there are some right ways and many wrong ways to do it. When you get it right, you will motivate others to participate in the meeting. You will also get them excited about attending your meetings. If they don’t get excited by them, they won’t dread them.

The first attribute of a good meeting is one that should be considered the golden rule of meetings. Don’t go over the time you advertise. You want to schedule your meetings to be no more than one hour unless there is an extenuating circumstance. If your company lost sales to a competitor, and you want to explore the reasons why this can be considered one of those circumstances. However, you still should limit the amount of time and advertise the meeting duration beforehand.

The next attribute of a good meeting is to motivate people to engage. If you are doing all the talking for an hour (or longer), you can be sure that most of the attendees will get bored. They will not remember what you said, and many of them will try to sneak some texts while you are talking. A better approach is to allocate time for each person to speak. Let them know about this ahead of time. You are the moderator and must stick to the schedule. If someone is going beyond the time, politely let them know. They may ask for more time. Remind them that you want to keep the meeting under the allocated time.

Create action items. Meetings should be used to align everyone’s understanding of a situation or project. If the attendees come out with a list of actions they need to complete, there won’t be any misunderstandings about the purpose or reason for the meeting.

Confirm via email the minutes of the meeting. It’s best to have someone who served as the writer of the minutes. You should assign someone before the meeting and don’t assume someone else took notes. Even people who took notes won’t necessarily write about everything discussed. Make the process formal by assigning someone to the task.

Arguments and heated discussions can happen during meetings. As the moderator, make sure people don’t shout and curse. It’s okay for arguments to occur if they are civil and don’t get personal. It’s your job to ensure they stay that way. If a discussion gets out of hand, take over the discussion and give people time to calm down.

Managing Your Emotions Will Help You in Negotiations

When you enter into a negotiation of any kind, one major ally will be keeping your emotions in check. It’s the one time when it makes a big difference. If your counterparty sees any signs of emotion, he or she will be sure to capitalize on it by using it against you.

Excitement is the first emotion to manage. Don’t let the counterparty know that you will do whatever it takes to make the deal. Do you want that beautiful new sports car in red? Show the dealer that you have no problems walking away if you don’t get the right deal.

An exception to the excitement rule is when you enter the negotiation with someone else with the intent of playing “good cop/bad cop.” In this instance, one of you should be overly emotional about making the deal, while the other puts a damper on the whole thing. The key is to get the counterparty as excited as you are and in turn, spend a lot of time in the process. The counterparty becomes shattered when the “bad cop” player says no to the deal. But the time has already been spent, and it is worth it for the counterparty to make a deal at that point.

Another great tactic when negotiating is to use silence to your advantage. People hate any uncomfortable amount of time passing with nothing spoken. The longer you wait it out in silence, the more you can get the counterparty to break. Being silent is not easy for anyone to master as most of us are used to quick exchanges when we converse with others.

If you find you are not good at negotiation, seek out someone who is. You may know someone who is great at it. If not, you can look for people who you can pay to negotiate on your behalf. Many times, these people will be willing to do it for a percentage of the amount saved in the negotiation. The savings will prove their skills. If they are unable to save you anything, they don’t get paid.

Using these tips can help you become a better negotiator. However, the best tip is to practice at it. Only through practice will you learn what works best for you and gives you the ability to experiment with new methods or techniques. If you have others negotiate on your behalf, be sure to pay attention to the methods they use.

What are Personal Boundaries and Why We Need Them

You’ve probably heard the phrase before, but maybe you’re unsure what it means. Just what ARE personal boundaries, and what difference do they make in your life?

To understand a personal boundary, you have to understand what a boundary is. Let’s start at the dictionary and go from there:

bound·a·ry (noun)

a line that marks the limits of an area; a dividing line.

Most boundaries are pretty easy to see. The world is full of fences and dividers, clearly marking off space. A personal boundary does the same thing – only on a more invisible and internal level. Let’s look at this on a little closer.

What are boundaries?

  1. A boundary tells you what your responsibility is in a given situation. You already have some boundaries at work or school. These are the parameters of your job or your responsibility as a student and usually are marked out pretty clearly when you took the job or where enrolled. On a personal level, a boundary tells you who you’re responsible for (yourself of course, but you might also be a caregiver). But what about your other responsibilities such as paying your bills, or taking care of your pets?
  1. A boundary keeps you safe. Many of these should go without saying – such as abstaining from drinking and driving. But sometimes you have to set some such boundaries for yourself. Such as whether or not it’s healthy to be in a relationship with a certain individual.
  1. A boundary tells us who we are. Are you a good person? A bad person? A selfish person? A pious one? Our moral code becomes the boundary that defines us.
  1. A boundary clarifies your needs. What things need to be in place in your life for you to be happiest and healthiest? What protects you for overwork or abuse?
  1. A boundary defines your relationships. What are the parameters of your relationship? Is that healthy? What is your responsibility to that other person? How are they responsible for you?

With all that, it makes sense that having strong boundaries is a good idea. Especially when you take into consideration these facts:

Boundaries…

…give you a better idea of who you are

…help others to understand your needs

…give guidelines in your relationships

…make for healthy interactions with other people

And perhaps most important of all, they are an integral part of self-care.

As a side note remember this: Boundaries need to be revisited occasionally and re-evaluated. As we grow and change, our boundaries will change as well.

With all this at stake, it’s no wonder we give boundaries such a lot of attention. Boundaries can mean the difference between a happy and healthy life and a life of drudgery and resentment.

Is it time to learn where to draw the line?

Stop Interrupting – It’s Blocking Your Listening Abilities

When you interrupt others, it’s not only rude, but it shows the world you weren’t listening. People don’t appreciate being cut off when they are speaking. If you are someone who often interrupts others, there is no way you are listening to them.

We get into bad habits as kids that we carry into adulthood. Our parents likely got into the same bad habits and that is our first exposure to them. Interrupting is one of those habits and it’s a big one. You probably hung out with a few friends who did it. If your parents did it, it’s likely you have aunts and uncles who do it as well.

It takes a conscious effort to break the habit, especially when you are older. This is not to say you can’t break it. You just have been doing it for so long that it will take you more time to get out of the habit.

To start practising, put yourself in learning mode. Think back to the last time you were learning something. You had little prior knowledge on the subject so you tended to listen more. There were no preconceived notions. When someone else is talking, try to learn as much as you can about who they are and what they are saying. Let them speak completely before speaking.

There are occasions in many conversations when you think the other person is finished, but they are only taking a small pause. You will undoubtedly interrupt them at this point. This is not out of rudeness. It’s just a missed cue. Just excuse yourself and move on. This will happen less with people who you know than with strangers.

It may be that you aren’t aware that you interrupt people. That’s possible. When you get into a habit, it’s just something you start to do naturally. However, think back to instances of people saying, “Excuse me, but I wasn’t finished talking.” It could be a variation on this phrase. If this has happened to you on several occasions, it’s a good chance that you interrupt others.

When you make that discovery, don’t beat yourself up about it. This is one of those habits others will forget when you turn yourself around. They probably won’t even think about the fact that you interrupted them before. If they do, your change will be welcome to them. You may revert to interrupting on occasion. But, make a conscious effort to curb this activity.

The One Key Ingredient to Being a People Person

If you could boil down one key ingredient to being a people person, it would be to listen. This is the one skill that will serve you well. In general, people are too wrapped up in themselves and don’t listen. This is even more systemic with the proliferation of smartphones. You see people with their heads buried in these devices all the time.

When you become a good listener, you will stand out from the crowd and people will take notice of this personal trait. More people will approach you and in many cases, they won’t even know why. It’s not as you announce to the world, “I am a good listener. Come talk to me.” It will happen naturally because you are listening.

Many people mistake listening with giving advice. This is not always a good idea. In fact, unless you are a counsellor or you are an expert in the subject of the conversation, you want to avoid advice as much as possible. You don’t want to give people bad advice that if followed, will lead to a difficult situation.

Listening involves hearing what the other person has to say completely and then interpreting what is being said. If you need to respond, you can acknowledge what was said. Some people like to repeat what the other person says after he or she says it. This can be awkward for the person talking, but it is helpful to ensure you understand what was being said.

You can also follow up with words of encouragement or empathy, depending on how the conversation is going. This is different from offering advice. You are letting the other person know you heard what he or she said and respond accordingly.

In most conversations, one person will speak about himself or herself. When the person finishes, the other person will speak about himself or herself. This is a common form of conversation but neither party is truly listening to the other. Take an interest in the other parties and let the conversation be about them. You will have plenty of time in other conversations to make it about you. To further the conversation, ask questions about what was said. This shows you are interested. People love to talk about themselves. Let them do this.

Listening is a skill. Just like anything else, it takes practice. When you become a good listener you will become more of a people person by using this skill to its fullest.

Ways to Talk to Strangers Comfortably

 We spend our childhoods being told to never speak to strangers but then discover as we grow up, we need to do just that, repeatedly. Some strangers are more comfortable to talk to, such as shop clerks or servers in restaurants.

Others though, are often more complicated, such as the strangers you meet in social situations. These are the people who have the potential of being your future friends and coworkers. These are the strangers who matter. To some, meeting this type of stranger can be quite intimidating.

How do you get past the initial trepidation and talk to even strangers comfortably?

Throw Yourself into the Deep End

If you always have someone to fall back on, you’re never going to truly take the plunge. Go to new places alone, so you’re not tempted to stick with who you already know.

Make the First Move

If you’re going to wait around hoping to be noticed, you might have a very long wait. Be bold! Start a conversation! Get up and join the fun rather than waiting to be invited.

Learn the Give and Take of Conversation

Ask questions. Get the ball rolling by discovering new facts about the people you meet. But also, be prepared to talk about yourself (but not excessively). Good conversation should have an ebb and flow. Don’t let it get too heavy in any one direction.

Learn How to Be Friendly

While initiating conversation, know when to back off before you become too aggressive. Not everyone is going to want to talk. If this is the case, let them go. There’s plenty of other people to talk to. Move on to someone else.

Be You

There is nothing more compelling than someone who comes across as genuine. Being authentic is a hundred times better than any role you could ever play. This means being you without pretence. If you’re nervous, it’s ok. You can even say something about it or make it into a joke. You’d be amazed at how many people can identify with these feelings.

Know When – and How – to Quit

If the conversation has died out or the interaction isn’t going well, know how to escape. An “I need” comment is a big help (as in “Excuse me, I need to use the restroom” or “I need to talk to that man over there about something, please excuse me.” Or just simply thank them for the interaction and move on. “It was a pleasure talking to you about Hawaii. Thank you for the conversation.” If you really like the person you’re talking to, get their card, or make plans to get together again before you go.

William Butler Yeats perhaps said it best. “There are no strangers here; only friends you haven’t yet met.”

With that thought in mind, wouldn’t you say it’s time to set forth and make some new friends?

Why Do People Attack Personally When Arguing?

You have been in arguments before. There is nothing earth-shattering about that statement. Several of those arguments probably got heated. But, did you ever revert to using personal attacks during your arguments? Did others personally attack you?

There is a good chance that both used personal attacks. Why is it so easy for people to use these tactics? Part of the problem is that people don’t prepare for arguments. You may know something about the topic you are arguing. But, do you have expert-level knowledge? If you don’t, there will be a certain point where you run out of ammunition during your argument. You won’t have the knowledge you need to counter the statement of your opponent. At that point, you feel you need to save face. The only way to do this is to attack your opponent on a personal level.

You aren’t alone. Your opponent is likely not prepared for the argument either. Therefore, you can expect an affront on a personal level as well.  Once the feeding frenzy begins, it goes into a free-for-all. The discussions turn ugly, and those arguing are shouting and exchanging verbal insults.

Another reason for personal attacks is this has become the new standard in media. It seems it is open season on attacking people on a personal level. Just take a look at any political race, and you will see some nasty exchanges. It makes it seem as though nothing is the truth when this happens.

One way to stop this is to agree ahead of time that if the arguments get personal, it’s time to take a break. Your opponent should have no problem with this. However, if there is an issue, that can be an indication that the argument won’t go well right from the start. It’s best to avoid the confrontation if you can.

If you have ever watched two people attacking each other personally, you likely thought they were both being petty, and neither of them wins. Therefore, use this fact when you are arguing and try to ignore any personal attacks. Discuss the issues instead. That can be difficult because once the personal attack happens, the opponent can’t take it back. It’s already said. However, if you rise above it and be the better person, people will look to you as a leader. You will already have the advantage in the argument when that happens. The other person will be the one ending up looking petty.

So there you have it – lots of tips and tricks to help you to improve your communication skills and hopefully nip any disagreements in the bud.

What advice would you add?

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