Have you ever found yourself in a dialogue, struggling to follow your interlocutor’s line of thought and wishing for some help in decoding their message? Garbled communication happens in everyday interactions, with varying degrees of consequences, the above scene depicting one that is quite extreme (and one could argue that the messaging, far from chaotic, is pathologically organized). Feeling like you’ve been pulled into a battle of wits can be confusing, tedious, and ultimately counterproductive to reaching resolution. In a negotiation, it can be particularly frustrating to sort through a cobweb of vague and disorganized messages and can lead to mistrust (which may have already been a problem from the beginning).
A mediator can be of particular help in these situations by helping to decode language, reframe declarations, and dig deeper into the needs and interests underlying murky communication. You can also learn clarifying techniques yourself, though training and regular practice. Some quick basic tips include:
- Calling it out: “I’m having trouble following you. Can you help me understand?” Recognize that, in many cases, even the speaker is unclear on what they are trying to say.
- Rather than talking over someone (which will only result in them raising their voice), truncating confusion with a hand gesture: put your hand up like a police officer. This will cause them to pause, and both people can regroup.
- Repeating back to the other speaker what you think you heard them say, and then asking for confirmation (or clarification) as to whether you got it right.
- as a speaker: thinking about not just what you want to say, but why it matters to you, so that you have some guiding purpose to navigate your route.
- If you know you are in a highly emotional state: waiting before speaking and/or taking 5 deep breaths counting to four for each inhale and each exhale. This is not to suggest that emotions be ignored or avoided; indeed, at Pactum Factum we treat emotions as another category of facts, which give us information. If the emotion is the communication, it might be important to express the emotion rather than to suppress it and camouflage it with reason.
Lucia Kanter St. Amour, Pactum Factum Principal