‘I didn’t mean it like that!’ ‘Landmines’ and conflict in conversations at work

I’m learning about Deborah Tannen’s work. Her research focuses on conversations[1]. On why we understand and often misunderstand each other. Good conversation skills are in my experience,  crucial at work. Whether you work on customer service,  as an administrator, or as a manager using coaching skill.

Working on  your conversation skills also contributes to your resilience. As you experience less irritation and anger and more harmony,  making it easier to keep moving forward in tasks, conversations and projects.

Stop talking over me!!

Deborah has researched conversational tone, rhythms, and patterns.  Like ‘cooperative interrupting’ – where you interrupt to ‘build on the gist’ of what the person said. As opposed to interrupting to cut them off and speak over them. Is ‘cooperative interrupting’ still interrupting? According to Deborah it depends on your point of view, your culture, geography and gender and your conversation intentions and expectations.

I don’t agree with everything I’m learning from Tannen’s findings e.g., I worry a lot about the gender generalisations). I’m digesting and processing it – like a true reflector.  In the meantime, here are some fascinating tips from her work about improving conversations and understanding.

  1. There are ‘landmines’ in conversations between us. These are the places where we get triggered and misunderstand each other. These are often linked to our own expectations of the other person. Like how much space they should be between one person speaking and the next.
  • A good way to deepen your understanding, is to step back after a conversation. To see if you can (more objectively) analyse it a bit ‘like a scientist’. Explore what your expectations were or where you think you got tripped up etc. This reflection is a skill that you learn as a coach, facilitator, teacher. And it’s great for anyone working with others to do a reflection like this. Of course, perception is everything. So true ‘objective thinking’ is probably not truly possible here. But at least you are working on stopping back and having a bit of perspective.
  • Bring peace harmony and understanding to our conversations with those close to us. Drop the experience of being at war and being adversarial. I love the idea that of ‘looking for the good in people’. By assuming there is often a good intention (rather than a malicious one) we can move away from seeing each other as enemies. ‘We have the power to resist taking adversarial stances toward each other in our private interactions.’ I found this idea valuable in  conversations where I’ve been in conflict. It’s also a great approach to use in customer service.

If you’d like to find out more about our communication skills workshops at The Learning Moment drop by and read more here.


[1]https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/43297241.pdf?ab_segments=0%252Fbasic_phrase_search%252Fcontrol&refreqid=excelsior%3A629b7dadf54fad1d2bdd16bbc648356e

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