Inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone regardless of cultural or linguistic background are values that underpin Harmony Week (14 to 21 March). These values are the very essence of all harmonious relationships.
In fact, Effectiveness Training Institute of Australia’s mission is to provide individuals with effective communication and conflict resolution skills to build connected, harmonious relationships.
When spoken, the word ‘harmony’ is a soft soothing sound. Musically, harmony means a pleasant musical sound made by different notes being played or sung at the same time. In relationships, harmony means an agreement of ideas, feelings, or actions, or pleasing combination of different parts. (Cambridge definitions).
In this time of discord and stress with a world health crisis (COVID-19), when our usual way of life and modes of interaction have been altered, how can we take the important message of inclusiveness, respect and a sense of belonging for everyone into our personal lives, our families and workplace?
Life is all about learning and so often we can get stuck in habitual patterns of ineffective communication and habits of reactivity when under stress. Conflict or disagreement is inevitable in relationships since we each see things from different perspectives. It is how we choose to deal with conflict that is the issue. How often do we find ourselves with raised voice, intense emotions and responding in ways we wish we had not – ways that are not respectful and do not bring out the best in ourselves or others?
Change starts with self-reflection of personal values, learning what it means to be inclusive and respectful, then re-evaluating our own behaviour and making changes. It is not always easy. It takes willingness, awareness, effort and practice to change those habitual, reactive, default pathways in the brain.
8 Steps to Prevent and Reduce Conflict and Create Connected and Harmonious Relationships:
- Reflect on your values (Effectiveness Training courses help you do this):
• How do you wish to live in this world?
• What is your belief or ideal which shapes your behaviour?
• What can you change about yourself?
• What can you accept about others’ differences?
- Listen and learn from others:
• Be curious about differences.
• Actively listen to yourself and others when there are heightened emotions and identify your need or value or the other person’s need or value.
• When you use blameful judgments as descriptors of others whether verbally, in writing or in thought, change to describing what you see and hear.
• Be open to hearing another person’s perspective – as I once read, you have one mouth and two ears, so use accordingly.
- Speak up if you are witness to coercive communication, divisive speech, racism and bullying:
• Let your family know that this is unacceptable to you and why.
• Use Confrontive I-messages and actively listen to the other person’s potential defensiveness so that they are more ready to hear your message and change their behaviour. Listen to their concerns and challenges.
• Teach your children: how to communicate differently to create inclusiveness and connection; how to problem solve their conflicts; how to assertively confront others. This takes lots of repetition.
• Role model non-judgmental speech, nonviolent, respectful, cooperative, noncoercive communication and problem-solving.
- Give positive feedback and encouragement:
• Thank others for sharing their perspective whether it be different from yours and you continue to disagree, or whether you choose to modify and adopt a new perspective.
• Acknowledge others, especially children’s inclusiveness and kindness to others, using positive I-messages rather than judgmental praise.
- Share your inclusive, healthy and respectful values:
• Declarative I-messages and consulting are great ways to do this.
• With children the use of fun role plays, puppets, stories, and books are additional ways to share values.
• With germ control and especially handwashing being so important for us all, here are some fun ideas and experiments that you can share with your children: https://www.teachstarter.com/au/blog/tips-to-reduce-germs-in-the-classroom/.
• A great children’s book on understanding difference that helps you know what to say when your child innocently calls out someone’s difference in public is: When Charley Met Emma by Amy Webb.
- Make the change:
• Read books to your children that reflect your values – ask the school or local librarian for suggested books.
• Learn and practice new communication skills together like Active Listening, I-messages, problem solving; have fun and laugh together.
• Using Method III problem solving, brainstorm with your family, colleagues or for yourself: what you each could change in your attitude and ways of communicating effectively; how you can all stay connected whilst isolation and social distancing rules are in place; what could be modified in your environment to reduce conflict.
• Support each other in making changes rather than being critical. When someone says something that triggers you, think ABC: Acknowledge your feelings; Breathe; Choose to respond not react.
• Complete an Effectiveness Training course and learn effective communication skills applicable to all.
• Be humble and apologise if you have fiercely argued your case without listening to the other, you have been judgmental, or what you said did not come out the way you intended. Start again after your apology and listen or speak to the other person from a place of respect, kindness and generosity of spirit.
- Model your values and walk the talk.
Let us be soothing to one another, listen, agree to disagree with respect, speak assertively and resolve conflicts in ways that develop relationships and bring mutual respect, connection and greater harmony.