Effective Communication in Conflict

by Krauss & Morsella, Handbook of Conflict Resolution

The misuse of communication often intensifies conflict.

Yet, we also witness that numerous disputes get resolved peacefully


and that long-standing adversaries can become allies.

Although there is no easily applied formula, there are some

Principles for Communicating Effectively in conflict situations.


 Reduce Noise

Consciously limit anything that disturbs understanding the intended meaning of a message (e.g. word ambiguity, tone of voice).




One way of limiting the possibilities for misinterpretation is to convey the same idea in more than one way.


1st Principle:

 When speaking, take the perspective of your listener.


As a speaker limit the interpretations that listeners can attribute to your message. The issue, then, is not "What do I mean by this?" but rather "What is my counterpart likely to understand this to mean?"





When formulating a message, actively consider what the listener will take your words to


2nd Principle:

When listening, try to understand the intentions of the speaker.


We habitually respond to what others say as

if it could mean only one thing. Yet, that seldom is the case.






When listening to a message, actively imagine the variety of meanings an utterance might have.



e.g. Terminology: almost every word has multiple meanings.

Style: one person might communicate an apology very directly, while another more indirectly.


3rd Principle:


Be an active listener.


As a listener, you are not limited to the role of a

passive recipient, but a participant in a communicative interchange.







As an active listener, you can: 1) ask questions, 2) clarify ambiguous phrases, and 3) invest attention to insure that you and your counterpart have the same understanding of what has been said.


4th Principle: 

Communication is intrinsically a cooperative activity.



One reason why conflict resolution can fail is when

the different sides are unable or unwilling to collaborate.


A paradoxical fact about human nature is that few things are as effective

in encouraging conflicting parties to cooperate as a common enemy.


In dialogue, the common foe is misunderstanding, and

reducing it can be the first step towards overcoming conflict.