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Monday, January 24, 2011

Interpersonal Communication Diffuses Violence

With the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords and the ongoing war in Iraq, violence is certainly a part of our ongoing news.  I am struck by how anyone thinks it is effective to be aggressive rather than assertive.  

Aggression involves attacking, whether by words or weapons.  An attack is an aggression.  Damage happens as a result of aggression.

Assertiveness involves respectful communication between two parties in an effort to come to a meeting of the minds, an agreement of how to handle a conflictual situation.  Generally everyone walks away from an assertive interaction with at least some of their needs being met.  So good feelings are generally the result of an assertion.

In my car yesterday I listened to Bob Edwards’ weekend as Bob Edwards interviewed Gary Noesner.  Mr. Noesner was a hostage negotiator with the FBI for thirty years and has written a book about it: Stalling For Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator.  

In the interview, he said “Interpersonal communication diffuses violence.”  What a powerful statement to make.

If communication is used effectively, then there should be no need for violence.  Wars start because negotiations break down.  People die in hostage situations when negotiation isn’t effective.  And on a smaller scale, angry interactions between two people result in really bad feelings.

If someone approaches you with an angry demeanor, your anticipation of their anger starts a level of inner tension.  As a beekeeper, I’ve been taught never to approach my beehives wearing black.  The bees think you are a bear and respond aggressively because they anticipate violence and an attack.  If I wear white or light colors, the bees are much more likely to allow my intrusion into their hive.

Assuming that an assertive interaction is possible and will work is the force behind hostage negotiation, as described by Mr. Noesner.  How to be properly assertive takes practice and is an art.  

If you want to review the basics of assertiveness, there’s a free class on my webpage.  It’s a Powerpoint presentation, hitting the high points of how to approach communication assertively.

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