Faith Wood knows how to resolve conflict. Her years in front-line law enforcement taught her how to effectively de-escalate any situation to a successful conclusion. Faith will use her knowledge of conflict management to guide you through the often stressful experiences you may encounter in your personal or professional life. Her Conflict Coach column appears every two weeks.
Question: I’m wondering how to navigate contentious conversations. It usually happens when discussions involve politics or COVID-19 responses. It’s as if everyone has a polarizing point of view on recent decisions and I hesitate to even share my thoughts with anyone.
I tend to be a bit of a conflict avoider, so I’m wondering how to respond when I’m being pressured to participate?
Answer: First evaluate why you feel pressured to respond. Sometimes silence is golden. Especially if you’re in a position where you realize no good can come of adding another opinion to the mix or if you feel you’re not informed enough on the subject matter to offer any objective insights.
Although there may be a host of reasons not to contribute to an exchange, being overly hesitant to voice your thoughts can negatively impact your reputation over the long haul.
Developing assertive communication skills can be very helpful if you find you’re being pressured to participate in challenging dialogues.
Being assertive is a skill that comes naturally to some but not to all. It can get you far in life, when balanced evenly. However, if not kept in check, assertiveness can come across as abrasive, rude, or even mean or aggressive.
The first thing to do when trying to be more assertive is to make the decision to positively assert your views and yourself, then commit to it. It’s not enough just to think about maybe trying to be more assertive in situations, like thinking about how you really should work out more while you’re eating dessert. You must commit to practise the skill.
You will need to practise improving your communication and listening skills. These skills are crucial in assertiveness. You need to communicate openly and honestly with respect for those with whom you’re speaking. In addition, you must become an active listener.
Pay close attention to what people say to you, try to appreciate their perspective and don’t interrupt. When appropriate, inquire how they came to the beliefs they’re sharing. Be curious about their process for decision-making and always assume good intent. What has led them to take the stance they’re taking?
The key to having the right balance in your communications is to show respect to others and allow them the space to be assertive as well.
When participating in contentious topics, stay calm, avoid guilt tripping and use what’s referred to as ‘I’ statements. Those statements (I think, I feel, I know) are much more assertive and more constructive than ‘you’ statements (you never, you always), which tend to be more polarizing.
Being assertive can get you far in life, but there’s a fine line between being positively assertive and being rude. If you keep yourself in check when working on your assertiveness and create a good balance, you can go further and be a lot happier in your communications.
An added bonus: Assertiveness can lead to promotions, healthier relationships and a more positive reputation.
Troy Media columnist Faith Wood is a novelist and professional speaker who focuses on helping groups and individuals navigate conflict, shift perceptions and improve communications. For interview requests, click here.