Practice English with these talks and articles on negotiation and conflict resolution. In addition to giving useful advice on work and personal relationships, they’re excellent English listening or reading practice!
I’ve added explanations of a few words or idioms that you might not know or easily guess. Let me know if there are any others that are a little difficult and I'll add more. (That can help other people reading this page after you as well!)
This article suggests 10 effective conflict resolution strategies to use at work. The author describes practical strategies she's learned from numerous uncomfortable situations. Learning how to apply her suggestions can help us make life easier and more productive at work.
She starts with taking a deep breath and pausing long enough to decide on the best approach. Then talk to the people involved privately, in the most appropriate way, even if the conflict is public.
It's important to give everyone involved a chance to express their feelings and perspectives-- without interrupting. Practice active listening, summarizing what you hear them say, and using "I statements" to express your own feelings in a less judgmental way.
(Read the article itself to understand how and why these strategies work.)
The final strategies are the value of strategic silence, of follow-up, and of understanding when you are not able to resolve the conflict and need to pass it on.
I want to mention two common English idioms early in the article. "par for the course" means expected or normal. (It comes from golf, where "par" is the average score for a particular hole or golf course-- no better or worse than most people's experience.
To throw me (or take me) for a loop" means to surprise or shock me with something unexpected that I wasn't prepared to handle.
One word you might not be sure of (which is used several times in the next article as well) is 'acknowledge.' It means to tell someone you recognize that there is a problem or mistake or that they are making a valid point. It doesn't always mean that you agree with them, but at least you have heard their concern and are not ignoring it.
NPR has an exceptional audio interview on negotiation: "Make all Your Arguments Win-Win-- Stop Fighting and Start Brainstorming." The interview itself is 19 minutes, with a short written summary and a transcript if you want to read the complete interview (or parts of it) afterward.
Incidentally, negotiation is pronounced ne-go-shi-A-shun, with stress on the A, pronounced like the letter 'A.'
NPR interviews Kwame Christian, Director of the American Negotiation Institute, on his three-step process:
He talks about how to start difficult conversations, how to get down to the actual issues bothering each one, recognizing your own potential emotions beforehand so you can be prepared, and finding a solution both sides can be happy about, so your relationship isn't damaged.
I loved the way they discussed why it's so important to acknowledge and validate emotion at the start of negotiation and conflict resolution. (To validate is to accept the validity of someone's feelings-- to agree they have a right to feel that way.)
Here's a little from the talk. They're discussing how Julia Furlan had angered a roommate years before by using her salad dressing without permission.
"CHRISTIAN: Good (laughter). Right, because here's the thing. If you deny the emotion, then they say, oh, you know what? I don't think Julia knows how I feel. I'm going to ramp it up a little bit and she's going to feel how I feel, right?
CHRISTIAN: And so the thing is those emotions are going to stand in our way from productive dialogue. Acknowledge it, validate it, and move forward."
He says if the roommate feels Julia didn't acknowledge her feelings, the roommate will "ramp it up." (She'll get angry and louder so Julia cannot ignore her feelings.)
Mr. Christian's argument is that by acknowledging and validating her feelings, their discussion can move forward and not get trapped in that anger.
It's worth listening to the whole discussion!
Do you avoid difficult conversations?
What about negotiation and conflict resolution?
You’re not alone! Many native speakers dread them—and they’re even harder in a less-familiar language.
But you can’t avoid them forever—and facing them will take away some of the sting. So will following the suggestions below that apply to you.
(This recommended article and talk are also excellent English reading and listening practice. They demonstrate some common English phrasal verbs and idioms as well. I’ve pointed out a few, but there are others—in a context that makes them easier to understand.)
Harvard Business Review suggests that changing the way you think about difficult conversations can help. Approach the person you need to talk to with respect, interest, and a willingness to listen more than speak. Your attitude will encourage the other person to be respectful as well.
The article has other important advice, but I want to highlight several phrasal verbs it uses to make key points. It emphasizes “Don’t put it off.” (Don’t postpone it or wait for later to deal with the problem.)
“If you’re always promising yourself that you’ll “bring it up next time it happens,” well, now’s the time.” (To “bring it up” means to bring a topic to the attention of the other person.) Talking about the problem and resolving it will let you move forward.
When you need to negotiate about something, this TED talk recommends three steps for getting what you want.
1. Do your research. (She mentions several more phrasal verbs you probably already know, including to “‘figure out’ whether what you’re ‘asking for’ is realistic” and to “’find out’ the range of what is possible.” The speaker points out that you need to talk to others so you won’t miss “issues that aren’t on your radar.” (“On your radar” is an idiom referring to issues you might not have been aware of at all.)
2. Prepare mentally: expect obstacles and think of ways around them. Realize your feelings may get involved and plan ways to handle them. He suggests that sometimes you may need to “press pause”—to take a break to deal with your emotions before you finish the negotiation.
3. “Put yourself in their shoes.” I don’t know if this is an idiom—and I think it is common to many cultures. In case it isn’t in yours, it means to consider what it would feel like to be the other person. What is he or she facing? How might your proposal affect them? The better you understand their position, the stronger your arguments can be.
To “lay out” your case is to spread it out in front of the other person so he can see how it all fits together.
I hope you've found these talks and articles on negotiation and conflict resolution useful! If you're interested in reading other articles (or listening to other talks) to practice your English, see Reading Articles to Improve Your English (with a list of related pages), Some Interesting Articles in English, or Characteristics of Good Leadership.