While developing a handout for my conflict resolution/mediation class I came across a number of communication tips that I thought worth sharing. They are good for communication in general… although I will note I find them easier to say than do!

  • Focus on behaviour not the person
  • Base feedback on direct observations rather than inferences
  • Use concrete behavioural descriptions not judgements to describe both positives and negatives.
  • Avoid words of negation: ‘no’, ‘but’, ‘however’—they invoke a defensive response
  • Use gradations — not “all”, “none”, “never”
  • Watch body language: boredom, aggressive eyes, leaning forward—instead sit in relaxed way, leaning back as if on a sofa for a chat.
  • Concentrate on what someone is feeling.
  • Do not get defensive if they attack—think about why they are angry and what their needs are. Show understanding and empathy.
  • Task is to elicit, suggest, propose don’t impose.
  • Sentences end with question-mark not exclamation mark
  • Respond rather than react
  • Share ideas rather than giving advice
  • Give feedback that is useful to the receiver and about things they can change, rather than getting everything off your own chest
  • Give the amount of information that can be used not the amount that can be given [ie avoid information overload]

Empathy killers

  • threatening – do it or else
  • ordering – because i said so
  • criticising – you
  • name calling – stupid idiot!
  • should/ought – you ought to…
  • withholding relevant info
  • interrogating
  • praising to manipulate
  • diagnosing motives – you are always…
  • untimely advice – if you…
  • changing the topic
  • persuading with logic
  • topping – when I…
  • refusing to address the issue – I can’t see a problem
  • reassuring – ‘you’ll be fine’


  • open body language, warm vocal tone
  • encourage further elaboration and clarification
  • display interest in what others communicate
  • affirming statements
  • support self-knowledge
  • uncover complex needs and improve relationships
  • use appropriate assertiveness
  • make ‘I’ statements
  • give appropriate feedback
  • reduce blaming language
  • share responsibility and decision making
  • communicate your willingness to resolve
  • giving appropriate acknowledgement and feedback
  • recognise it is valuable to explore my part of the problem

Understand your emotions

  • anger – shows need to change/communicate
  • resentment – is immobilised anger – need to take responsibility for how you feel and change the situation
  • hurt – tells us our needs are not being met, or self-esteem wounded
  • fear – warns us to proceed with caution, seek help and separate fantasy from reality
  • guilt – need to make amends/do things differently next time
  • regret – of unfulfilled potential – need to accept it without denial

Manage emotions

  1. Acknowledge
  2. Breath
  3. Centre
  4. Decide (appropriate ways to express emotions)
  5. Engage

Designing options

  • brainstorming
  • range of creative alternatives
  • see perspectives as part of a bigger picture
  • analysis or mapping
  • want what is fair for everyone
  • define issues
  • express needs and concerns
  • ask questions
  • reframe responses

Many tips to consider… and slowly incorporate into the way we communicate, in time…


Quadan, A & Dan, K (2011) Community Mediation: Theory and PracticeCourse Manual. Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Sydney

Galtung, J & Tschudi, F (2001) “Crafting Peace: On the Psychology of the TRANSCEND Approach” in Christie, D.J. Sagner, R.V & Winter D.D. (eds) Peace, Conflict and Violence Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Galtung, J (2007) “Peace by Peaceful Conflict Transformaiton – the TRANSCEND approach” Galtung, J & Webel C (eds) Handbook of Peace and Conflict Studies, New York: Routledge

Horowitz D & Laksin J Conflict Resolution Skills Workshop