Fundamentals Seminar 8: Communication Pitfalls and Corrections

This seminar relates to Conflict Frontiers Massively Parallel Peacebuilding (MPP) Challenge 6- Communication Challenges

Communication always gets strained in conflict.  Sometimes it gets almost entirely cut off, except for rumors and third-party information that leads to serious misunderstandings.  This seminar describes a number of typical problems, how they can be handled, or better yet, avoided in the first place. 

  • Interpersonal / Small-Scale Communication -- Robert Quillen wrote, "Discussion is an exchange of knowledge; argument an exchange of emotion." These resources explain why interpersonal communication breaks down and how to make it more effective.
  • Channels of Communication -- In escalated conflicts, parties often cease communicating altogether, or they ignore each other, assuming the other is biased or simply wrong. Opening channels of communication is an important first step in conflict management or resolution.
  • Misunderstandings -- Normal conversations almost always involve miscommunication, but conflict seems to worsen the problem. Even if the misunderstandings do not cause conflict, they can escalate it rapidly once it starts.
  • Escalation-Limiting Language -- A wrong word or misunderstanding during a conflict is like gasoline on a fire. De-escalating arguments requires awareness and self-control.
  • Empathic Listening -- Richard Salem writes, "I spent long hours learning to read and write and even had classroom training in public speaking, but I never had a lesson in listening or thought of listening as a learnable skill until I entered the world of mediation as an adult."
  • I-Messages and You-Messages -- I-messages can be a useful tool for defusing interpersonal conflict. This essay describes how they can be used, their benefits, and their problems.
  • Creating Safe Spaces for Communication -- Constructive communication between parties is often facilitated by creating a "safe space" for such communication. This essay describes what such spaces are, how they are useful, and how they can be established.
  • Dialogue -- In dialogue, the intention is not to advocate but to inquire; not to argue but to explore; not to convince but to discover. This essay introduces the concept of dialogue, discusses why it is needed, and suggests ways to do it effectively.
  • Narratives and Story-Telling -- Stories have been vital to all cultures throughout history. Recently, they have been purposefully employed as tools to promote empathy between adversaries and to help people heal from past trauma.
  • Persuasion -- Persuasion is the ability to change people's attitudes largely through the skillful use of language. Martin Luther King's letter from a Birmingham Jail is a classic example of persuasion.
  • Cross-Cultural Communication -- Even with all the good will in the world, miscommunication is likely to happen, especially when there are significant cultural differences between communicators. Miscommunication may lead to conflict, or aggravate conflict that already exists
  • Communication Tools for Understanding Cultural Differences -- Edward T. Hall writes that for us to understand each other may mean, "reorganizing [our] thinking...and few people are willing to risk such a radical move." This essay offers strategies for improving cross-cultural communication.
  • Culture-Based Negotiation Styles -- In Asian, Canadian, and U.S. cultures, touching outside of intimate situations is discouraged. But, Mediterranean, Arab, and Latin American cultures allow more touching. Cultural differences like this can cause problems in cross-cultural negotiations. Such differences are explored in this essay.