Eighty Eight: Communication and Conflict

“Communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy and mutual valuing.”  – Rollo May

Saturday, March 29th

Today felt like a big ol’ breakdown of communication. I realized how disjointed we can get from one another when we turn to texting, emailing, or not communicating at all instead of turning to one another. When did it become so compelling to communicate at a distance? Did we start to feel empowered to say things that we could not in person? Did we start to say too much, or lose the point altogether of what we were talking about?

This sort of breakdown has happened many’a’times in my life, but today it happened closer to home with someone whom I have pretty good communication. The issue itself was not the issue; in other words, the breakdown wasn’t about the practical terms of what happened, it was because someone plodded ahead with plans that involved my household without talking to anyone in our household.

Members of my cohousing community have worked extensively to draft communication guidelines. In this document are ideas on how to approach conflict and resolve it in a number of ways. It’s interesting how different individuals respond to the question “What do we do in the face of conflict?” Some tackle it head on while others let it fizz away. But there has been no formal method to turn to when one’s own attempts fail to address a misunderstanding, hurt feelings, or a breakdown in communication.

What I am learning is that if there are two options (one, to communicate with others and waylay the progress on a project, or two, to move ahead) then the communicative choice is preferable in most circumstances. It might be frustrating. It might take more time and effort. But at the end of it all, there will be buy-in from all interested parties. Something I’d failed to consider before was the existing power dynamics that affect conversations in conflict. People, quite innocently, might fail to acknowledge how their privilege or position might give them an upper hand in a conversation.

I’ll give you an example. When I worked at a non-profit, we hired full-time AmeriCorps workers to teach classes and run programs. They were given a lot of work and responsibility. All other staff had a lot of work and responsibility. One young AmeriCorps worker arrived late to teach her class, and even though she had another part-time job and other life responsibilities she was called out by her supervisor. It was much easier for the supervisor to initiate the conversation based on hierarchy (if not formal structural hierarchy, then the perceived social order of the organization.)

I will try to work this out today and ask for the respect and communication that I would like to have.

What is your default pattern of behavior when you are in conflict?


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