I just returned from the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals Forum in San Antonio. While there, I had the chance to recommend to some colleagues that they attend Sharon Ellison’s workshop on Powerful Non-defensive Communication and was reminded again about how insightful her work is. I have also given as suggested reading to one of my Support and Development groups some of her writings. If you haven’t read one of Sharon’s books or attended one of her workshops, I highly recommend listening to Taking the War out of Our Words. I think it is much better to listen rather than read because then you can hear the differences in tone that are so crucial to how we communicate.
Sharon suggests that many of our interactions are power struggles. Sometimes, even when we are intending to be supportive, we can be engaged in power struggle. When we counter what another person says, we are often engaging in power struggle. Sharon gives these examples,
Child: “I can’t do this math assignment. It’s too hard!”
Parent: “Sure you can, honey.” You are really smart.
Friend #1: I’m feeling kind of low. I don’t think I’ll go to the party.
Friend #2: Oh, C’mon. You’ll feel better if you go.
The intent of the Parent and Friend 2 is probably to be supportive and yet they inadvertently set up a power dynamic when they counter the first speaker. I wonder if we sometimes do the same thing as mediators or Collaborative professionals when a party expresses doubt about the process. When we seek to reassure, do we counter the party and create the opposite result of what we hope?
Sharon talks about how we instantly become defensive in many situations and relationships—personal and professional. When we become defensive we lose some of our ability to problem solve and that, of course, reduces the effectiveness of our communication. We communicate that defensiveness inadvertently through tone and facial expression as well as in our choice of words. Sharon talks about approaching people with genuine curiosity and she demonstrates ways to say exactly what you want to say but to do it in a way that does not incite conflict.
While in San Antonio, I also had an opportunity to watch Ellen Bruno’s film Split about children of divorce. Gary discussed Split in this blog a month or so ago. The film is a powerful reminder of the impact of divorce on children and also on their resiliency. I was moved to tears by the poignancy of the children’s words and impressed by how articulate they were about their experiences. I plan to show the film to my children and stepchildren over Thanksgiving and see what comes up.