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(1) FLANAGAN’S FOOTBRIDGE

The path to avoid conflict by the PULL and PUSH Process. How to get from Frowns to Smiles or from Darkness to Light (Skywalker).

A footbridge is a path to get someone over an obstacle. Remember the Simon Garfunkel song The Bridge Over Troubled Waters? In this case, the obstacle is a conflict in communication, and the footbridge is the path to overcome or avoid conflict. The path is a simple process that I call Pull & Push.

To begin with, it is necessary to talk about what conflict actually is. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, as well as Brian Tracy in Getting Ideas Across, say that 90% of what we call conflict is merely misunderstandings, which include erroneous assumptions. So how do we avoid those misunderstandings and assumptions? Mr. Covey also said in his 5th Habit, as well as Saint Francis in his classic prayer, that we should first seek to understand the other party before seeking to be understood.

There you have it. In order to avoid those obstacles of misunderstandings and assumptions, there is a process often used in sales of asking questions to find out what the customer’s needs are that would be helped by the services or products that the salesperson is selling. In applying this process to conversations, which I did in my law practice, I prefer to call it the Pull & Push process.

The Pull is asking what the other person’s thoughts are on the topic under discussion. The questions should be open-ended, not merely asking for a yes or no. The listener should use both eyes as well as ears to hear the non-verbal and well as the verbal. This is followed by restating what the other person has said to make sure one has really understood what the other person meant. So then when that is accomplished, and it is time for the listening party to talk, the Push, there should not be any of those misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions of what the other party feels about the topic under discussion.

(2) DYNAMIC DIALOGUE – this series of blogs is dedicated to the improvement of communication.

The basic ingredient in improvement of communication is the understanding of the importance of truth and trustworthiness. By being truthful, one earns trustworthiness. In other words, one becomes reliable. As stated by Dale Carnegie and Associates in their The Leader in You: “Communication is based on Trusting Relationships”.

Quite naturally, many people think that communication is all verbal. Not so. According to both Sandler Sales Systems and Brian Tracy, verbal (what is said) is at only 7%, and non- verbal (sometimes called the contextual clues) at the remaining 93%, with tonality (the tone of voice) at 38%, and body language (which includes facial expression) at 55%. No matter what the exact percentages may be, it is obvious that effective communication has more to do with the how (the non-verbal) something is said than with the what (the verbal) actually is meant to be said. The importance of that is if the non-verbal is not congruent with the verbal, the non-verbal (the body language &/or the tonality) will trump the verbal thus defeating the credibility of the verbal.

Next we will discuss the four communication tools to prevent or overcome or avoid conflict.

(3) THE FOUR COMMUNICATION TOOLS TO PREVENT, OVERCOME, OR AVOID CONFLICT.

As someone wisely said, “…minds do not always share the same idea, hence the need for a dialogue”. And President Gerald Ford added “Nothing in life is more important than the ability to communicate effectively”. So let’s look at four communication tools that can be used to prevent, overcome, or avoid conflict: Credible Dialogue, Mutual Understanding, The Seven Basic Elements of Communication, and Persuasion.

(a) Credible Dialogue.

The basic elements of credible dialogue are Truth and Trust. Being Truthful involves risk because we are usually reluctant to share our inner feelings with others. But being truthful leads to trustworthiness or reliance. That’s what we do with close friends and cause you to rely on one another. In Japan meeting a new business partner may involve a round of Saki (the custom is to pour the other person first), or here in the US it may involve a round of golf (where the custom is to be honest with claiming strokes). As said by the Dale Carnegie Group: “True communication is based on trusting relationships”.

(b) Mutual Understanding

The best way to achieve mutual understanding is to begin by asking open-ended questions – those that ask for more than just a yes or a no – followed by active listening and repeating in your own words what other person has said to see if you got it right. Both St. Francis (in his classic prayer) and Stephen R. Covey (in his 5th habit) beseech us to first seek to understand the other person before asking that we be understood.

So now that you understand how the other person feels about the topic under discussion, it’s your turn to match your words to those used by the other person and try to persuade the other person to what you see as the solution to the problem being discussed. How else would you have a meaningful dialogue?

(c) The Seven Basic Elements of Communication.

We often say that a person with a gift of gab is a great communicator, but let’s look at the real percentages of the elements of speaking. According to both Sandler Sales Systems and Brian Tracy International, the percentages are as follows: verbal spoken language only 7%, non-verbal tonality 38%, and non-verbal body language 55%.

So it is obvious that how you say something is very important. The reason is that one’s tonality and body language must be congruent with the intended spoken message in order for the message to be believed because if not, the non-verbal message will trump the intended spoken message.

I believe that there are seven basic elements of effective communication: (1) attitude, (2) active listening, (3) verbal spoken language, (4) non-verbal tonality of voice, (5) non-verbal body language,(6) congruence and blending of language, and (7) blocks to communication.

(1) Attitude.

What they say about the power of smiling:

It makes you feel better;

It increases you face value;

It uses less facial muscles; and

It makes people wonder what you know. So it helps to have a sense of humor.

There is that old saying that honey attracts bees better than vinegar.

It is also important to have a problem-solving attitude, and an empathetic attitude (meaning understanding but not necessarily agreement).

It also helps to have an optimistic attitude. Remember that old saying that an optimistic person, on looking at a glass filled to the mid-point, call it half-full rather than half-empty.

(2) Active Listening

I call this the “pull” of communication because this is where you learn the other party’s interests and values. This is very valuable in avoiding misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions. Both Stephen R. Covey and Brian Tracy were fond of saying that ninety percent of what we call conflict is merely misunderstandings, which includes wrong assumptions.

(3) Verbal Spoken Language

I call this the “push” of communication because this is where you get to speak your part, having now understood where the other party stands on the topic.

(4) Non-Verbal Tonality of Voice

In conversations, tonality refers to the lower or higher pitch or tone of voice. The higher the pitch or tone, the more impression of anger, which is one letter short of danger.

(5) Non-Verbal Body Language

This is where you listen with your eyes. The importance of this language will be discussed under the Congruence of Language.

(6) Congruence & Blending of Language

There are three main parts to language: verbal, non-verbal tonality, and non-verbal body language. Both Sandler Sales Systems and Brian Tracy rate the importance of these three as, respectively: 7 percent, 38 percent, and 55 percent. Obviously, the non-verbal greatly outweighs the verbal. This is why there must be congruence between the two, because if not then the listener will believe the non-verbal. As for the blending of language, you will obviously get along better with another person when you emphasize similarities, particularly in language and style.

(7) Blocks to Communication

Blocks can be perceptions, prejudices, and emotions on the part of either or both parties to a conversation. Anger is one letter short of danger. Henry Ford aptly defined them as: “obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off your goal”.

(d) Persuasion

In the path over conflict, take the high road and persuade. Do not argue. You are selling an idea. Persuasion merely converts the other party to your point of view. As the wise Chinese philosopher-warrior Sun Tzu said centuries ago: “Supreme skill is bending the other party without coming to conflict.”

One way to accomplish that is to sit next to the other party rather than across from him. Sitting across from one another creates an adversarial effect. Sitting next to each other creates a cooperative and more friendly effect.

It is also important to know the interests and values of the other person as well as yourself. Sun Tzu also said: “If you know the enemy as well as yourself, you need not fear 100 battles.” More of that in the discussion of the Pull process in the next post of The Pull-Push Method of Avoiding Conflict.

Aristotle told us to appeal to the heart with emotion (pathos), and to the mind with logic (logos), and all with honest trustworthy character (ethos).

Roger Fisher and William Ury, in their best-selling classic book Getting to Yes, gave us four basic suggestions fo persuasion:

(a) Concentrate on interests (less changeable) rather than positions (which are driven by interests & therefore more changeable);

(b) Emphasize problems rather than people (eliminate blocks like emotions and prejudice);

(c) Create options to mutually solve the conflict (& create your BATNA, the best alternative to a negotiated agreement; and

(d) Use objective criteria to justify your proposed solution (e.g., using a comparable value).

Frank Luntz, in his book The Word Doctor, added the following suggestions on persuasion:

  • speak from the heart,
  • say what you mean, and mean what you say,
  • use direct eye contact,
  • show respect for the other person, and
  • show that you are really listening.

(4) THE PULL-PUSH METHOD OF AVOIDING CONFLICT

It would be appropriate to now discuss more fully the method of avoiding conflict that I mentioned in the Flanagan’s Footbridge paragraph on the bottom of the home page, and as the first post above, especially now that I have discussed the basic elements of communication. It is a method that I became aware of in an aha moment in the Epilogue of my book Managing Conflict – Strategies to Create and Teach Resolution of Conflict. And it forms the basis of my next book Conversations without Conflict.

It is a method that I had practiced over the course of my law career without being specifically aware of it. It is also similar to a method taught to salespersons to find out if their service or product would help solve the problems being experienced by a potential customer.

The method is based on the following statement of both Stephen R. Covey and Brian Tracy: Ninety percent of what we call conflict in conversation is due to misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions. If that be true, then how could we avoid those communication blocks? The answer to that question can be found in the classic prayer of St. Francis and in the 5th Habit of Stephen R. Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. That principle is that we should first seek to understand the other person before seeking to be understood.

That means in discussing a topic, especially if it is controversial and with a person with whom we have a meaningful relationship, we should start by asking the other person open-ended questions. The answers should be followed up by feedback to determine if we understood what the other person meant by his answers to our questions. That is the “pull” part of the process where we listen and learn.

Then, when you feel that you truly understand the other person’s feelings on the subject being discussed, having avoided making misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions, you can talk about how you feel about the subject. This is the “push” part of the process, where you talk and persuade. You should talk in a persuasive manner, not argumentatively, and in a manner matching the other person’s language and style. For a further discussion of persuasion, see (3) (d) above under the Tools of Communication.

You should also emphasize your similarity of feelings about the subject and your understanding those of the other person. Hopefully then you will be able to make it possible to reach an agreement, even if it is just to agree to disagree.

One final part of the process. This is usually different for us, and therefore it should be practiced. As David Sandler, the founder of the Sandler Sales System, aptly said in the title of his book, You Can’t Take a Kid to a Seminar to Learn How to Ride a Bike.

(5) The Golden Rule and the Platinum Rule

The mutual understanding and persuasion I have spoken of above are contained in the Golden Rule, found in the Bible : “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. Some years ago, a communications consultant by the name of Tony Allesandro came up with his improvement on the Golden Rule which he called the Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Now that would call for really knowing the “others”.

(6) Quotes on the power of creative thinking.

Tom Watson, the former CEO of IBM (Big Blue) said: “All of the problems in the world can be solved if man would always think.” To which I add my favorite quote from Albert Einstein: “Thinking is the hardest thing we do, which is why so few people do it.”

(7) Recent conflict

There is plenty of conflict all around us these days. Some even include rioting, plunder, and violence. We have people who want to take down statues and monuments because they feel offended. Before that it was political correctness – you can’t do or say anything that might offend someone. They are playing with our minds – they really want to change our culture. Someone recently pointed out that was how China got its change of culture – they destroyed the old one.

Take Black Lives Matter; if black lives really mattered to them, they would be screaming about how blacks are treated in Chicago. But they are not – they are picking fights over any way to do something else, i.e., get rid of law enforcement so they can rule. Look at some of those who are funding the rioters who just happen to show up on the scene of a protest, with a dump of rocks and bricks ready ready for the rioters to throw – George Soros and Antifa.

So, how should we react to these attempts to change our culture?

(8) BEYOND WAR

Do you remember this organization? It was a group organized by a segment of an old volunteer organization at Stanford University, and had its office in Palo Alto, CA. It was concerned with the possibility of nuclear that Russia would instigate a nuclear war. Going behind government channels and using private channels, it successfully had private engineers and related scientific people who realized the horrible destruction that would result from a nuclear war. My wife and I were active in the organization in the early 1980’s as team leaders.

As a result of Beyond War’s efforts, the threat of a nuclear war with China was dissipated after negotiations between our President Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union’s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, who earned the 1988 Beyond War award for “changing the superpower relationship from open hostility to cautious cooperation thereby reducing the threat of global annihilation and increasing the hope that all war can be eliminated”.

Soon thereafter, Beyond War closed its doors relying on that hope that all war would be eliminated. Some of us thought that was too soon, given the other global problem areas that were developing. Although the results of President Trump’s efforts to put a lid on the possibility of global war, there is some hope that it can be eliminated. However, it would not hurt to revive the private efforts of an organization that might be interested in carrying on the principles and traditions of Beyond War. We need to continually seek realistic creative alternatives to global conflict.

(9) Today, June 30, 2020 – the first half of the year gone …..

……and only four months and three days ’til Election Day! Despite the ones who think that Trump will have trouble being re-elected, I think he will win easily. On the one side we have the Left causing and/or supporting rioting, plunder, and violence to disrupt and change our culture, and on the other side we have the Right supporting law enforcement as a necessary part of organized society. The agenda of the Left is basically to have unlimited government, replacing God with the State, open borders, and heavy taxes to support the socialist government. The agenda of the Right is to have limited government, and keeping God, closed borders, reasonable taxes, a fair market based U.S. economy, and avoid being drawn into senseless wars that we can avoid by a sensible foreign policy. I think that the heartland of the U.S. will be enough to drive the re-election of Trump. And that hopefully will foster more unity and less divisiveness as a nation. To guarantee that result, I would like to see the GOP legislators sign a Contract with America supporting Trump’s agenda to guarantee that it will get done. Newt Gingrich did it successfully, but unfortunately the GOP has not repeated it.

(10) THE SOURCE OF CONFLICT – July 1, 2020.

I am disturbed by the number of people suddenly talking about systemic racism and jumping to erroneous conclusions. Many of them start with the George Floyd incident and then go on from that to conclude that there is a wide spread of racism in our culture. They must be assuming [and you know what assume means – just break it up into its syllables (ass-u-me)] that the conduct of the police officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck is widespread. In other words, an erroneous assumption because one bad apple does not mean that the rest of the barrel is rotten. I talked in the above blogs on effective communication about the mishaps of misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions being a major (90%) cause of what we call conflict.

(11) THE POWER OF LAUGHTER – July 2, 2020

“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humor.”

Charles Dickens, Jr.

That power is a particularly effective weapon against conflict.

(12) Quote of the Day – July 3, 2020 — A great conflict preventer.

“Don’t wait for people to be friendly – show them how.” Henry James, American novelist.

(13) Happy 4th of July

May we never ever forget why we have independence. We obtained it to resolve a conflict and be free under a government of, by, and for the people, with limited powers.

(14) CONFLICT AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT — July 5, 2020.

‘Tis 90% of what we say, due to misunderstandings and assumptions. Why? Because we forgot to ask how the other person feels.

(15) THE PROBLEMS CAUSED BY THE LOSS OF THE GENERAL PRACTITIONER — July 6, 2020.

As happened in the field of medicine several years ago, the loss of the general practitioner has now happened in the field of law. When the few remaining GP’s retire there will be no more. As a retired surgeon said of this event in medicine, “We thought we had a whole body, but now we just have a collection of body parts.” That says a lot because the generalist has an overview of the whole system, and of the relationship of its parts.

What I see happening in law is what happened in medicine: the commercialization of the practice over the sense of public service. Furthermore, the loss of access to, and affordability of, legal services, particularly in rural areas.

Another problem in both fields is that the GP was the referral base for the specialist, and with the disappearance of the GP, so goes the referral base. Medicine’s answer to that is to relent some of the simpler duties to the remaining GPs who will remain as the referral base. Also, medical schools came up with another category of physicians, the family doctor, which is conferred on those graduating with their course of study amplified with courses in psychology and obstetrics.

How those or other related changes will be applicable to, or adopted by, the field of law will be up to the California Supreme Court, the State Bar, the law schools, the county bar associations, and the practitioners themselves.

(16) the CONFLICT THAT FACED THE 56 SIGNERS OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE in honor of those signers on July 7, 1776 == July 7, 2020

They all expressly pledged in that document their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor, which was not an idle pledge as demonstrated by the following results:

9 died of wounds suffered in that revolutionary war;

5 were captured or imprisoned;

Wives and children were killed, jailed, mistreated, or left penniless;

12 signers’ homes were burned to the ground;

17 lost everything that they owned; but

No signers defected — their honor, like their nation, remained intact.

As Paul Harvey would have said, that is the other half of the story that you never saw in the mainstream media nor probably was taught in the classroom.

(17) Psychological signs of conflict existing now that need to be addressed. == July 8, 2020

(a) The hatred expressed in the taking down or forcing removal of statues owned by someone else, especially when the statue in question is someone who is an historical figure and therefore part of our history.

(b) The victimology expressed by those who were never a slave demanding retribution from those who never owned a slave.

(c) The blaming of society or a group in society for the actions of some one individual in that society or group instead of the individual who is responsible for the action. An appropriate and relevant statement was made by President Reagan: “We must reject the idea that every time a law is broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

(18) A cure for conflict. July 10, 2020

Today I watched an online conversation starring Alan Alda, former actor now creator of the Alda Center for Communication Science at Stony Brook University, New York, and the director of his center, Laura Lindenfeld. Sometime soon I’ll do a summary of the conversation, but for now I wanted to address their comments on how to best communicate without conflict. Remember I said earlier that it was more important how you spoke than what you say because non-verbal communication language out-weighed verbal communication in credibility? Well, Alan and linda were saying the same thing but in different words. They said that “Yes, but” in responding to someone was a block to communication, but not if the response was a “Yes, and . . .”. So try that out in your next conversation and see the results.

(19) My favorite morning prayer to avoid conflict in that day. July 11, 2020

God, you are ushering in another day untouched and freshly new,

So here I come to ask you if you’ll renew me too?

Forgive the many errors that I made yesterday,

And let me try again, dear God, to walk closer in Thy way.

But, Father, I am well aware I can’t make it on my own,

So take my hand and hold it tight, for I can’t walk alone. Helen Steiner Rice.

(20) CAUCASIAN – A SOURCE OF CONFLICT? July 12, 2020

In this time of the increase in the use of the word “racism”, when colored people insist on being called African-American when they were not born in Africa, so if they were born and live in America they are American. My grandparents were all born in the Republic of Ireland, but came to America and became naturalized citizens. So, I don’t call myself Irish- American. I’m American.

That takes me to the common survey on race in which there is no listing of white. The only name used for white is caucasian. That term means you are from Caucasia. Do you know where that is? It is the region between the Black and Caspian seas, comprising of the Republic of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and part of S. Russia in Europe. Now neither I nor anyone else in my family was born or lived there, so why am I to be identified as Caucasian? I am American. So why don’t they ask for nationalities – i.e., where you were born and first lived?

(21) Christ’s lesson on communication. July 13, 2020

The Gospel reading in the Catholic Church last Sunday was from the Gospel of Mathew 13:1-23. It concerned Christ’s parable to the people about the sower of seeds. The disciples asked Jesus why He spoke to the people in parables. His reply was They look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.

This is a usual instruction given to writers – i.e., to use stories to make their point clear. Telling stories can make the listeners more inclined to understand because they will be more actively listening due to the interest generated by the story, which also will make the point of the speaker more relatable to their experience.

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