Enemies of Understanding

Enemies of Understanding

“Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding.” –Mahatma Gandhi

Today’s word prompt:  Understanding

This is yet another word that relates to the work I do in not only conflict resolution but also intercultural communication.  This is yet another word with lots of different connotations.  On the one hand understanding is simple comprehension.  On the other, however, it implies an awareness of feelings and a tolerance of others.  On another note, it is also used to connote insight and good judgement.

With regard to comprehension the solution should be simple:  pay attention to the words that are spoken.  Yet, with regard to awareness and tolerance, understanding reveals a relational aspect.  To really understand indicates that we “get it”, that we are aware of what is being said or done.  The tolerance part of understanding is questionable.  How often have you heard people say, “I understand, but I don’t agree.”

Understanding is the first step, though, in finding a way back to a relationship that is broken due to conflict.  It is the one thing, also, that people feel is lost when in the middle of a conflict.  How many times have I heard my husband tell me, “I get it. I understand what you are saying,” but I felt, “Hey, you don’t get me at all!”

So, understanding needs agreement, then?  It can’t be one person saying, “I understand,” and the other saying, “No you don’t!”  Understanding implies both people in a communication agree that understanding has been reached.  This is the most important part of understanding.  Being able to agree that there is a true awareness that is supported by the other person’s agreement that “you got me”.  It doesn’t mean you have to agree, but the miracle of real understanding where agreement is reached is that then tolerance is reached.  When I see two people in a conflict conversation suddenly shift their perspective towards understanding, I watch them agree to disagree.  I watch them willing to understand the perspective of the other and become empowered to say, “I get it.  It may not be something I want to agree with, but because I now understand, I can honor your perspective as well as my own.”

So, that brings us to the final definition of understanding:  insight and good judgment.  When understanding is reached, especially in the midst of a conflict, that shift or change leads towards a recognition and “insight” that really does change the way we communicate with each other.  The amazing thing to me is that we get along and love so many people who are different from us.  The secret ingredient to those successful relationships is understanding.

In intercultural communication understanding is the key towards being able to build effective relationships across cultures.  Cultural differences in understanding include different values, beliefs, and perceptions that challenge communication.  Assuming we understand the other is a mistake many people make when living and working in other cultures.  The “ah-ha” moment comes when we suddenly realize a difference that has perplexed us.  Once we reach an understanding of the different perspective or way of being in the world, we generally find it easier and more enjoyable to build closer relationships.  This, again, brings new insight moments as we truly reach an understanding.

I think I am in love with this word!  I love that it has so many nuances and ways to discover!  Reaching understanding seems like a true gift!

So, this word of the day is coming a day later.  But, can understanding ever really come too late?


The image at the top of the page reminded me of understanding in the intimacy of the puppies.  That connection and need are a part of understanding to me.  The image is a painting by Tricia Calvert.  You can see more of her images on Instagram.

Please feel free to leave me a message or just say hi!  I love to hear from you!!


How do you connect?

How do you connect?

The word prompt today is connected.  It should be an easy word to prompt me to write.  I passed up playful and smooth.  They evoked some thoughts, but no action.

How we connect with one another is a central theme in all that I do and believe in. Connectedness is central to relationship building. But, it is also important to ideas and thoughts — to creativity.

So, here are the ways I love to connect.

  1. I listen.  I have worked hard over the years to learn how to listen. I admit I do have this nasty habit of interrupting.  Often, my thoughts spill out of my mouth way too soon.  In that way, I am not connected.  Yet, when I need to or when I see the other person needs me to, I have learned to stop and really listen.  Listening means making sure I also ask questions and clarify my understanding.
  2. I love the diversity each individual brings to the table.  I love being with and listening to people from very different backgrounds from my own.  I can be with someone from any country or region in the world and learn something new.  I can also be with someone from a very, different socio-economic background and listen to their stories.  It is all about learning a different perspective.  Like looking at any one thing from different angles gives us a different view of the same subject; so, too, does listening to someone from a different culture, ethnicity, neighborhood, or experience.
  3. I am creative.  I can take an idea and attach another idea to it and make it new.  Or, I can find a different way of looking at a problem, a new perspective, and bring about a creative solution to an old problem.  It is all about making new connections or gaining new perspectives.


Sometimes I think the act of being connected is the most important concept we have in life.  We can’t survive without it.  Children who don’t have the privilege of human touch and love (i.e. connection) fail to thrive.  Later in life, if we don’t have important relationships to help us through the difficult times, we fail to thrive.  And, if we don’t have connections in business, our businesses fail to thrive.

In this world, we need to be connected.  The truth is being connected brings a satisfaction, a serenity, a joy that makes living and working smooth (June 5) and playful (June 6).

Tips for the angry voice

Tips for the angry voice

Anger grabs us all.  It’s hand reaches out and shakes us to our very core.  We so often think, “Hey, I will not get angry!” Then, when we least suspect it, a little, internal button clicks and we are caught in the web.  We feel that rush of emotion coming to a head.  We may raise our voice, trying to be heard.  Or, we may pace the floor desperately thinking of what to do next.  Whatever our pattern, the internal emotion is not comfortable. It is not the place we want to be!

So, then what can we do?  Here are a few tips.

When the voice is our own…

  • Try to take a moment away from the emotion.  If in conversation, excuse  yourself.  Take yourself away from whatever it is that is increasing your blood pressure and pushing your buttons.
  • Whether or not you can get away, try to observe what you are feeling.  That is, acknowledge your own anger.  Recognize that you are feeling angry.  Then start to trace back to what started this feeling.  What was the trigger and why did it trigger you?  Were there other factors that created the feeling?  For instance, are there other circumstances that contributed to your feeling, like being fatigued, ill, or stressed? If you can understand what is driving you, you might be able to look at another solution other than letting the anger boil to the top.
  • And that leads us to the next item.  Analyze your options.  What will the effect of your anger be?  What is your goal?  What do you need?  Maybe you just need to be heard and understood.  Will letting the anger loose help or hinder your goal?  My guess is it will get worse instead of better.  Weight your options then.  Will waiting until you are calm help?
  • Finally, if the angry voice comes in a conversation, consider listening to the other side. Perhaps there is something you are not connecting with or not hearing because your buttons have been pushed.  Try to hold off judgement for a short while to listen.  Listen by repeating back what the other person has said.  And ask clarifying questions.  See if you have understood properly.


If the angry voice is speaking to you…

  • It is very challenging to listen to someone when they are angry.  Yet, this may be exactly what they need and what stimulated their anger. Active listening is the best way to help them move from anger to a resolution.  The first step is to set aside your own reaction and listen to the words they are speaking.
  • Reflect back the words they have used.  For example, if they say, “You b&%ch, you are constantly saying you will help me, but instead, you create more problems.”  You can say, “Sounds like you are really angry with me and frustrated that I am not  helping.” Be aware that they may get more animated and say a lot more, but that is a sign they feel free to express more of their frustration.  Keep listening and reflecting.
  •  If listening does not help, you can suggest that you both talk about it later.  If it does help, then wait until they are able to talk more calmly and clearly.  Then you can share your own thoughts and perspective so that you are both having a conversation and not a shout out.


The above are only tips.  The truth about conflict is that it is complex and sometimes does not respond to the classic tips and processes.  However, ultimately remind yourself what you need in a conflict.  How would you want others to respond to you?  If you can give to others what you need, you will have won half the battle.  The other half depends on the other person!


The picture above is from Disney’s Inside Out.  It was a fun movie to watch.

The conversation is based on today’s Daily Prompt, Angry.

Peace in a Restless World

Peace in a Restless World


This is an excerpt from an old blog post I wrote several years ago. I  have grown and developed as a mediator since that time.  I will write more perspectives on mediation in future blog posts.  

A few years ago I was sitting in the office of the Dayton Mediation Center.  Loud voices echoed from one of the mediation rooms.  Suddenly, we watched as one of the parties in a dispute walked briskly out of the center.  He was followed by Ray, one of his mediators.  I glanced out the third-floor window to see what would follow next.  I saw Ray and his client talking in the parking lot. Most likely, Ray was checking in with the man to listen to his concerns.  As mediators, we generally do not try to change a person’s mind but support their decision in the matter.  We open the door to letting them decide what they want to do to work through a dispute.  The man did not leave, though. He changed his mind and accompanied Ray back into the building and back to the mediation room.  I did not hear loud voices again.  Half an hour later two people emerged from the room, smiles on their faces.  What brought about that change?

The change happened because the people in conflict were able to listen to one another.  They were able to have a conversation and to gain a new perspective on their argument.  The new perspective enabled them to recognize each other and to open themselves to looking at the problem in a new way.  They were able to take responsibility for their own part in the conflict and to recognize each other’s different needs – particularly the need to be understood.

Ray listened to the man’s concerns when he was in the deepest emotion of a conflict.  The gentleman, having an opportunity to express himself and be listened to, became empowered to return to the conversation.  It helped him get clearer about what he wanted to do next.  It also allowed the conversation in the room to transform into a different type of conversation — one that was more constructive.

As a mediator I am always in awe of the capacity of people to work through conflict.  No one likes to be in conflict.  Most people want to be connected and at peace.  So, what causes conflicts?

I have come to believe through the study of transformative mediaton that most people come into conflict because of a failure to understand one another.  It is a crisis in their ability to interact.  Often, it happens because they fail to recognize one another.

Conflict is relationship oriented.  That is, it stems from the interactions we have with one another.  when those interactions break down, there is conflict.  When a conflict occurs, our ability to understand the other is often lost.  We are unable to find a way to listen to the other person and they, in turn, may not be listening to us.  This is when we may feel disconnected and powerless over the situation.

A common action when we feel that the other person is not listening is to raise our voice. It is as if yelling will help them listen better, but it rarely works.  Angry words may be spoken that harm the relationship even more.  Another tactic in conflict is to ignore the other person — to just not talk to them.  This is also a strategy that harms the relationship.  The problem with most of these strategies is that they do more harm to our relationship and make the way to reconciliation more difficult.

Here are some tips when dealing with conflict:

Try to set aside the conflict and listen.  If you can set aside your own feelings and ask the other person some clarifying questions to see why they are acting the way they are you might start to see another side.

Reflect back what they are saying to you.  You don’t have to agree with the other person, just create a space where they know you really do get what they say and are listening.  It is amazing how much easier it is to resolve a conflict when you show you really do get where they are coming from.

If listening and talking through the conflict don’t work, call someone to act as a third party. Call a mediator.  They have skills to help the difficult conversation take place.  Don’t be afraid of the conversation.  A mediator will help you and the other party to listen to one another better.  It will help you work out a better way forward.  I also recommend asking the mediator if they use a transformative model.  The transformative model is much better for relationship building or rebuilding!

When we are able to recognize the other person’s perspective and to be recognized  – when we are heard and understood – then we can move from that feeling of disconnection to understanding.  That is, once we start to recognize the other person’s different perspective and to have our perspective, our story, listened to, we are able to reconnect.

I do want to give a positive plug to the transformative model of mediation.  Transformative mediation is a process in which the mediator – a third party – uses methods to help parties in conflict “see” each other’s different perspective of a dispute.  The mediator enables the parties to make decisions about the dispute.  The mediator may simply reflect the words and phrases the parties are using or notice their emotions and/or behaviors.  The mediator may summarize important points in the conversation.  These techniques may help the parties gain clarity and begin to understand their own and the other parties differing needs. It also provides a space for people in a dispute to decide what they want to do and how they want to approach the problem.  It provides a safe space to have a difficult conversation.  As in the case mentioned in the first paragraph, the conversation they are having becomes transformed from one that is destructive and spiraling downward to one that is constructive and enables them to move forward and out of the conflict.

Transformative mediation also provides a space for people in a dispute to decide what they want to do and how they want to approach the problem. they, themselves, can make decisions about how they want to have the conversation.  The transformative process provides a safe space to have a difficult conversation.  The conversation in a mediation becomes transformed from one that is destructive and spiraling downward to one that is constructive and enables them to move forward and out of the conflict.



Listening Across Cultures: Using the Intercultural Way

Listening Across Cultures:  Using the Intercultural Way

Listening is like a bridge from one individual to another. When we listen, we open the other person to feeling received and accepted by us.  In turn, we often find a mutuality in listening.  The other person is then open to listening to us as well.

I have been thinking a lot about listening lately.  Not only because I am always intentionally looking for new ways to improve my skills, but also because it is a skill I share with others.  Last night, laying awake listening to the sound of cold wind shaking the window, as if knocking to enter, I thought about the differences in listening across cultures.  The skills for listening across cultures is part of the Intercultural Way, a model I have developed living and working across cultures.

The Intercultural Way is a system of behaviors that enhance communication interculturally.  Behaviors that are good practice for anyone working with cross-cultural teams or moving to live in a different land.  To me, listening is a first step in the Intercultural Way.  If you can listen interculturally, you can listen anywhere, anytime. Listening across cultures is the penultimate skill.

Below are a few of the skills needed to listen across cultures:

  1. Listen in context.  Listening in context means paying attention to all of the details of the communication.  Pay attention to not only what the person is saying, but also what they may not be saying, but implying.  Pay attention to body language, facial expression, voice tone, and word placement.  That is pay attention to ALL the non-verbals communication.
  2. Be familiar with the variables.  The variables are the different cultural dimensions such as individualism vs. collectivism or universalism vs. paticularism.  Every culture has a general dimension which may effect the connotation and expectation of meaning.  Awareness of what dimensions you are talking to will influence how you listen to what is said.
  3. Don’t be afraid to clarify.  When in doubt, ask.  That is the number one rule.  When you are talking across cultures, ask clarifying questions like, “When you say management, what do you mean?  What are typical behaviors of managers.”  You can follow up by explaining that you are just checking to see if it is the same in their culture as yours.  Everyone understands and appreciates clarifying questions.  Don’t be afraid that they make you look bad.  In fact, they highlight your desire to listen well.



Secrets of Active Listening

Secrets of Active Listening

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  Stephen Covey

Active listening is an art.  It isn’t something we automatically do, rather it is something we learn and develop.  A child, for example, has to learn how to stop and listen.  They aren’t ready for school until they have mastered skills in staying still and listening.  Those that are better listener’s are often also better learners.

The sad news is that we often don’t develop our listening skills beyond what is needed for learning.  Conversational listening remains an art to be developed and learned.  The point is that we need to listen to be effective leaders and to help us resolve our differences. A big advantage of honing the art of listening is an increase in charisma. Best selling author Bryant McGill said, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”

The best thing I learned in my adult life has been how to listen.  Listening has enabled me to make friends in many parts of the world as well as how to negotiate difficult contracts.  Beyond that, though, listening has opened up a new world to me — a very, exciting and interesting world that has taken me beyond myself.

Below are a three tips to hone your listening skills.

  1. Face the speaker and maintain eye contact.  Make sure you are looking at the person while they speak.  Resist the urge to glance at your cell phone for text messages or to let your gaze travel away. Letting our gaze stray also encourages our minds to wander as well.
  2. Focus on the words.  Focus intently on the words people are saying to you.  Use techniques like restating or summarizing what was said to assure that you have understood exactly what the person is saying.  Don’t be afraid to ask a clarifying question if you don’t understand.  The point is to pay attention to all aspects of the conversation.
  3. Hold all judgement aside.  While you are listening, hold all judgement aside.  Try to understand what the other person is saying as well as understand where they are coming from.  Judgement gets in the way of understanding another person’s perspective, so holding it aside will help gain a deeper understanding of what is underneath what the other person is saying.


The secret to developing any art is practice, practice, practice.  Enjoy the practice!