Interpersonal Communication & Conflict

Each day we exchange information, feelings, and meaning through verbal and non-verbal messages, but we sometimes forget that certain impacts on communication, particularly cultural differences, are profound and present a new set of challenges. This is especially true in contemporary peacekeeping, which has brought a wide array of cross cultural interactions. Participants in peacekeeping missions often encounter difficulties both in relating to local practices and in collaborating with people in areas to which they are deployed.

In the last twenty years there has been a considerable increase in the number of peacekeeping operations. These missions are often composed of UN and regional peacekeepers that come from different countries, speak different languages, and bring with them a different culture. This creates the potential for cultural clashes not only among actors involved in peace operations, but also among the local population. With the above in mind, it may be helpful to think about how we can use interpersonal communication skills to improve our interactions in the field.

Interpersonal skills are the skills we use when we communicate face-to-face with one or more people. It’s not only about what is said, but also how it’s said. Interpersonal communication encompasses non-verbal messages such as gestures, body language, tone and pitch of the voice, and facial expressions. Good interpersonal communication skills allow us to work more effectively in teams, develop multicultural partnerships, and manage relationships.

Given that peacekeepers sometimes lack cultural insight into their host country, interpersonal communication skills are a relevant factor in peacekeeping operations. If conflict resolution practitioners learn to engage local communities, making sure they feel respected and understood, local members can serve as key liaisons between the mission and the population. In addition, consistent and effective communication can build mutual expectations, thereby helping participants succeed in today’s multicultural world. By increasing our sensitivity and understanding of other cultures, we learn to function cohesively despite the differences embedded in less familiar territory.

Recommendations

I’ve listed some good books and articles that provide tips on how to develop communication skills and strategies in conflict environments. You can also click here for upcoming workshops and seminars.

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