Communication for Peacebuilding
Communication for peacebuilding takes a variety of forms – speaking or verbal, non-verbal or body signals, listening, and interpreting messages. When we communicate between cultural groups, often there are different norms and assumptions, which make communication even harder.
- Reframing. Reframing involves giving an alternative interpretation of issues or behaviour. In conflict, parties often engage in communication patterns that escalate a conflict, like trading accusations, or not listening to the other side. By reframing, the mediator validates the speaker’s experience but opens the door for alternative interpretations of the content. Changing the frame makes room for different perceptions and interpretations of issues and behaviour. For example, a mediator might reframe an action like “forming coalitions against me” to “she must really feel powerless if she finds it necessary to gather the support of others.” Reframing might involve moving a speaker from more general to specific comments, might identify underlying feelings, might neutralise attacks or identify areas of common interests.
- Restating. This is similar to reframing, except it involves restating what one party says in language that is less accusatory. The person restating does not add anything to the statement, but simply paraphrases the speaker. For example, one party might claim “she is lazy. She never helps me with the difficult tasks of running an organisation.” A mediator might rephrase this statement in the mediation: “Running an organisation is difficult and takes a lot of work.” A follow-up question that reframes the content might be whether the speaker feels overwhelmed with the amount of work involved in running an organisation. When restating, the third party should check with the speaker to make sure the paraphrase is accurate.
- Active listening. Using active listening demonstrates to the speaker that you, as a listener, are really hearing what the speaker is saying. You communicate this by reflecting the feelings of the listener (responding “you feel very strongly about this” to a comment about “I’ve had enough – I want him out of the organisation”), restating the content of the speaker’s comments, asking open-ended questions, and generally communicating empathy with the speaker. Empathy communicates that the listener really understands the speaker’s point of view. When overused, active listening can be irritating, and it is difficult to do in cross-cultural situations where perceptions and interpretations of content and underlying emotions in conversation are culturally influenced.