Resilience Tip - Conflict Management and Reflecting Back

Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.
While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.
Conflict Management - Reflecting Back
You may be familiar with an exercise used in teaching "active listening" - the listener reflects back what the speaker has said. Some people doing this exercise (particularly some sabras!) feel silly, as if they are merely parroting another's words. While I do not recommend this exercise to be the norm of everyday language, this form of interaction is particulary helpful in the midst of an undesired conflict.
Reflecting back is not a memory test to see if you were paying attention. It is a check on whether or not the intended communication was successfully recieved; not necessarily that the communication was agreed with, but that the listener got the message the speaker intended to transmit. This is not as simple as it seems. Our communications are not straight lines from speaker to receiver. Our communications are surrounded by interpretation. Each time a person receives a transmitted group of words, that person attempts to create meaning out of the transmission received, and these attempts to create meaning are colored by our experiences, beliefs, preferences, etc. For example: "Don't stop" could mean both do not stop whatever it is that you are doing, or stop whatever it is that you are doing; the punctuation is extremely important ("Don't, stop." vs. "Don't stop.") and punctuation is not always heard well. And, the listener often attempts to create meaning, to understand the communication, on their own.
Why is this particulary important in conflict management? Conflicts are often due to misunderstandings and misperceptions. Suppose you are sitting with a colleague or family member. There is music in the background, and the other person begins to tap to the music. You say: "Don't, stop." because you are trying to concentrate and the tapping is distracting. And yet the other person continues to tap. Your thoughts start to race: " What's wrong with him, just ignoring what I am saying, he seems to think I don't even count!" or "What a self-centered person, only caring about what is right for her." Soon the other person asks you to pass the pen lying next to you, you blurt out something like "Get it yourself!" And they wonder what in the world happened because they heard you say "Don't stop."
This is a simple example, the basics of which are the same in much larger conflicts with wide-ranging and significant repurcussions. Refelcting back can be extremely helpful in both simple and larger conflicts. It does not matter at one point you catch the potential misperception and intervene, it only matters that you catch it and intervene. Reflect back what you think you heard the other person communicate. "What I understood you to say is that the deal will not happen unless the European branch has their input." The other person may respond, "Yes, that is what I meant." Or they may say, "Not exactly, the contract cannont be signed until the European branch has their input, and the input is really just a formality." Or, an example of a non-professional situation: "I'm not going to your parents for the holiday this year, you all just ignore me." A typical response might be: "We do not ignore you." Try instead: "You're saying that we all ignore you when you come to my parents? What do you mean by that?"
Reflecting back clarifies the communication to ensure that the receiver of the communication got the intended message of the speaker. This allows us to more effectively address the communication, particularly potentially conflictual communications, and so be able to problem-solve more effectively and respond more resiliently.
Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant
Working with individuals and partners in
  developing resilience and related issues.