MARY KAY TURNER
How Mediation Skills Can Help Improve Your Relationships
We all have many relationships–with family members, friends, coworkers, and others. Sometimes misunderstandings can cause relationship breakdowns. Regardless of the closeness and importance of the relationship, good communication can improve good relationships and help repair broken ones.
Many skills that are used in mediation are simply good communication skills–including listening, eye contact, understanding body language, paying attention in conversations, using I-messages, and encouraging further communication by asking open-ended questions. Unfortunately, these skills don’t come naturally to everyone; but fortunately, all people can learn them.
It can be challenging to communicate with other people in English because of homophones, those words that sound alike but have different meanings, and different uses of words that bring in other meanings, making it harder to understand. So, one of the most important communication skills is listening to the words the other person is saying. If someone says something that you don’t understand, a good response is “Can you please explain that?”
For good communication it is very helpful to be able to see the person so you can observe the facial expressions and body language. So something definitely is missing in text messages and other electronic contact. Hearing a person say, “What a day!” gives one understanding of the words if the speaker is smiling and excited, but quite a different perception of those same words if the person saying them is sad with shoulders slumping. Looking in the person’s eyes to show interest, saying “Tell me about your day” and listening for the response can bring out more information. You might learn not only about what happened, but also how the speaker feels about it.
Open-ended questions are questions or statements that cannot be answered with a single word answer, but invite the person to provide more information. In addition to the examples above, others are “Please give me an example of that;” “What would be helpful to you?” and “It seems you are upset about….” It is good to be prepared to hear things that might cause some discomfort.
Human beings can control their responses and actions, so it’s not accurate to that say another person or “the devil made me do it.” Taking ownership of feelings is less threatening than accusing another person of causing those feelings. One way to take responsibility is to say, “I feel angry when you don’t appreciate….,” rather than, “You make me so mad….”
We are more likely to listen if we believe that what people say is important. On the other hand, some attitudes get in the way of good communication. It is better to avoid some things, like: giving advice–“You should just…;” being judgmental–“You’re wrong about….” ;” and avoiding the subject–“I’d rather talk about your…..”
May you communicate well with your loved ones and avoid misunderstandings and conflicts that can bring stress and problems to your life.
Mary Kay Turner is a teacher, who is a trainer, mediator, and board member for Mediation Services of Adams County (MSAC).