The Language We Use…

In looking through some of the blogs I follow, I came across this post that talks about the misunderstandings that can happen in mediation.  Have you ever had that happen in a class, mediation or a dispute resolution?  Maybe in just a conversation?

My guess is you have.

Even if you haven’t, ever notice how many conflicts, big or small happen because one person says one thing and the other hears something else?  Recently that’s exactly what happened between me and my eldest daughter.

Years ago, I did a year of law school and though I didn’t stick with it, (as it really wasn’t for me) the best lesson I learned was in the Contracts  I class.   The professor said “…words to a lawyer are like scalpels to a surgeon, they are the tools that we use…”

Now, as I learn more about mediation in my program and begin to practice with my internship with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission I understand the power of what that professor mentioned all those years ago.  And how it applies to the whole field of  Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Sure a quick search of the web can pull up articles like this one that cover the write-ups of mediation language.  But I’m talking more about what happens during a mediation, orally and aurally.

And of course there’s the field of non-verbal communications that can tell you a lot, like this article mentions.

So let me ask this – when you communicate, have a conversation, do you consider how you’re communicating?  Not just the content, but what journalists call the mode of communication?

I never did, not really, not until I took a class here at Columbia called “Intrapersonal Dynamics and Conflict” taught by Barry Sommer.  It opened my eyes to the issue of language in communications, and drove home the point my Contracts professor made.

Practicing all this is harder than you think, and can be a distraction from what you’re trying to say.    But when I help with a mediation it’s always in the back of my mind.

So what do I do if I suspect I’m reaching a sensitive point in negotiations?

I pause, I slow down the speed of my talking so I can think ahead as I talk.  And so far that has cut way down on the misinterpretations and miss-communications.

Like most skills, I find that practicing this verbal awareness helps make it more automatic.  Personally, I never want it to become automatic to the point of learned behavior, like driving.  But the more I think about the mode and method of my speech the easier it becomes.  And the less damage control I have to do after the fact.

But I know I have a long way to go to master this skill set.

What do you think?

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6 responses to “The Language We Use…

  1. Definitely agree that the way in which we communicate has just as great an impact as what we are communicating. Important skill to develop in CR field. Albert Mehrabian’s book ‘Silent Messages: Implicit
    Communication of Emotions and Attitudes’ has interesting analysis of how much of our communication is conducted through words and how much through non-verbal communication.

  2. Thank you for your comment!

    Sounds like a book I should add to my shelf

  3. Absolutely right! Language is a tool. The words and phrasing we use completely determine the response we will get. Great post!

  4. I would imagine you could compare this type of communication to a martial arts master who just moves instinctively. Maybe after years of practice, these matters can become second nature, and you can make sure to communicate exactly what you want, in the way you want, so the other party gets the message you intend them to receive.

  5. great post! I recently read an article about how your behavior changes when you speak another language! I experienced being a mediator and translator at the same time and I can confirm that verbal and non-verbal communication affect the mediation process!

  6. I took the Intrapersonal Dynamics and Conflict class with Barry Sommer as well, and I also gained valuable information in terms of language and the power of words. I am way more mindful of verbal and non-verbal cues during my daily interactions and as a result I have become a much better communicator. I am glad that you enjoyed the class as much as I did, Barry Somers did an excellent job in detailing the communication process.

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