Home Visiting

Conflict Fluency, Matching, Shushing: Taking a Leap of Faith

Today is day two of a three-day training intensive called “Culture, Diversity, and Change: Developing Skills for Inclusive Community,” we (UU ministers, ministerwannabes, and assorted ilk) focused on intercultural aspects of conflict.

Do you know how it can be complicated to take part in some activity that is in your realm of professional expertise but you aren’t the one doing it?  For instance, it can be kinda hard for a professional chef to go out and enjoy a dinner at a restaurant without bringing her professional judgment into the experience (way too much cilantro).  Or a woodworker can admire someone else’s gorgeous cabinetry, but it’s awfully hard not to whisper to himself, I woulda used tongue&groove for that joint.  Oh, well, to its his own.

Well, I can be that way when it comes to workshops.  I try not to be obnoxious about it and I hope that facilitators don’t notice.  I do bring a meta lens, assessing not only the content, but its delivery, and not just from the point of view of a participant, but as a vicarious facilitator.  There’s a critical voice (Oh, no, don’t read that whole slide word for word) and there’s a compassionate voice (that is rough when they keep chatting and not minding the facilitators); there’s the voice of praise (that was some sweet thinking on your feet!), there’s the voice of empathy for the participant (my god, it does suck to do these role plays), and there’s the voice of appreciation (wow! I might be able to adapt that in one of my workshops).

So let me say, I am impressed with the sharpness and knowledgability of the facilitators and enamored with the content.  I have gotten over my initial introvert aversion to the group setting which had me convinced of my loser-status and other participants’ too-cool-for-school selves, and have begun to see the individual textures of each of the seventeen other participants (and two facilitators) and as per usual, I am smitten with each and every one of them.

Among the many topics and concepts today, we discussed strategies to engage conflict effectively.  The most compelling (and unfamiliar) strategy was a further refinement of an old stand-by from Active Listening.  Deeper than “reflecting,” they call it “mirroring” thought my small group was of the opinion it would be better called, “matching.”

Glottal cycle, animated
Glottal cycle, animated (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Matching is bringing the same or a similar energy to the person who is raising a concern or expressing upset so that they feel met and/or heard. This is particularly important in situations when one person is more restrained in their engagement of conflict and the other is more expressive.  Though such situations happen within shared cultural interactions, this is more likely to occur in cross-cultural interactions.

This does not mean that if the person is angry, then the minister (or supervisor or plain other human being) match that anger.  It’s not about matching the emotion or even their perspective, but about matching the level of energy.  So if someone is gesticulating, it’s good to gesticulate.  If someone is swearing, it’s okay to throw in a “damn.”  If someone is speaking slow and your typical way is to speedtalk, then there’s got to be a slowing down.  And if the pace of their speech is excited, it’s up to you to quicken your speech to a similar cadence.

Typically, people of all ilk are told to bring a calm, quiet, reassuring presence as a way to manage or resolve the conflict.  However, in this model, they are not talking about conflict management or resolution, but about conflict fluency, which involves the ability to read cues and to change course during the interaction.    Apparently this is based on the work of Michelle LeBaron; it is clear that I will be adding her book, Bridging Cultural Conflicts: A New Approach for a Changing World, to my reading list.

Some of the workshop participants wondered about the efficacy of this unfamiliar technique, particularly how it flies in the face of ministers being asked to bring a non-anxious presence or how it contradicts most traditional guidelines for de-escalating behaviors.   It does have a distinctly counterintuitive feel.

Which reminded me of the only magic I ever encountered in my home visiting practice.  Among the five S’s that Dr. Harvey Karp of The Happiest Baby on the Block advocates, the third one – shushing — is the weirdest.  And the most magical.  Basically, when a baby (particularly a newborn, but even older infants can benefit) is crying there are five things you can do to help them calm down: swaddle, side position, shush, swing, and suck.  To shush a baby, you place your mouth right next to their ear (while they are crying), and you make a loud shushing noise right into their ear.  Not a quiet shushing sound, not like a whisper.  But like a LOUD one.  And if the baby’s crying gets louder, so does your SHUSHING.

from happiestbaby.com
from happiestbaby.com

Unless you have done this yourself, you are probably experiencing some skepticism right now.  I don’t blame you.  I have demonstrated this to numerous desperate parents (you kinda have to be desperate to agree to have someone do this with your child, and so they take a leap of faith and consent to let me try) and every time, it’s like a little baby miracle: The baby stops crying.  The baby calms.

Here.  Watch for yourself.  Be amazed.

It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.  I’m kinda thinking that this matching (or mirroring) strategy might be just the like that.  Take a leap of faith, meet that person where they (and their energy) are at, and see what happens…

3 thoughts on “Conflict Fluency, Matching, Shushing: Taking a Leap of Faith

  1. I hadn’t thought of shushing as similar to matching energy levels in cross-cultural conflict styles, but, YES, very similar. If the infant has more stamina than the adult, radio static, again loud, also works. I don’t think the equivalent works with adults, though.

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