Have A Conflict? Use FAVES

The FAVES acronym can help you during your next conflict or dispute.

Posted Apr 10, 2012

As a follow up to my article on the “Wheel of Conflict” [here], I recently gave a presentation for administrative supervisors with Robina Hospital on the Gold Coast, Australia. The workshop titled, “Conflict in The Workplace? Make Mediation Work,” allowed me to walk people through the process of conflicts and disputes.  I provided interactive scenarios and examples how of certain skills can help prevent, contain, and de-escalate conflicts and disputes. 

In addition to sharing the Wheel of Conflict and how each element (structure, emotions, history, communication, and values) can contribute to conflict arising, persisting or possibly increasing, I also shared with them, and now share with you, an acronym FAVES. FAVES represents: focus, ask (open-ended) questions, validate, empathy, and summarize.

FAVES has helped me be a better communicator, specifically a better listener, in my various roles in life.  This includes while serving as a law enforcement detective, mediator, conflict coach, communication consultant, and nonverbal communication researcher. 

Focus:  Focusing on the situation at hand means not worrying about did you lock the door when leaving your apartment or what to have for dinner (go ahead and discern those things—just not while engaging the other person!).  A good quote that helps me understand the importance in focusing is “The opposite of listening is waiting to speak.”

This is the essence of focus and its particular importance with all the other elements—focusing allows you to increase your effectiveness of each of the following elements.

A simple exercise to show how easy (or hard) it is to focus is to set a timer for 60 seconds (try even just 30 seconds) and try to concentrate solely on your breath.  Each time you find your mind wandering, bring it back to your breath.  Take this experience and bring it with you next time you are attempting to focus during a conflict or dispute.

Nonverbally, focusing includes feeling relaxed while at the same time not to the point of showing disinterest.  Picture a comfortable sitting position that neither is not stiff and erect nor fully slouched.

Ask (open-ended) Questions:  Asking questions allow the other person to speak and share their position and more importantly the reasons behind their position.  A quote I refer to in regards to this is “Seek to understand before looking to be understood.” [read more about this quote and the previous one on listening here]. 

By having the FAVES skills, you realize that if you both are talking at the same time, no one will be listening.  Emotional contagion tells us our words, actions, attitudes, and emotions can be contagious- other people can “catch” them.  Being calm and collective while listening will display you want to hear them and thus allow them to know you want to hear them.  

Using open-ended questions in contrast to questions that solicit “yes/no” responses encourage the other person to continue speaking. An example includes asking, “Tell me about how you think things went?” compared to “Do you think things went well?”

The first question allows the person to answer in an expanded version while the second questions can easily be answered simply “good/bad.”  The open-ended question gives them more time to speak and gives you the opportunity to find out the “why” of their answers. 

From a nonverbal communication perspective, remember to be aware of your tone, eye contact, body orientation, and posture.

Validate:  Validating is what you do after the person is speaking or quick comments while they are continuing to speak.  Validating lets the person not only know you are listening but you acknowledge the emotions they are experiencing.  

An example is includes you stating, “So it sounds like that really upset you.”  You know it works, and works well, when you get a response, “Yes, exactly!” while they express it excitedly with relief knowing you understand them.

Remember to continue to focus on how your body is acting and to make sure it is congruent with your words.

Empathy: Empathy involves understanding the other person’s perspective.  Note, and this is very important, empathy does not mean agreeing- it simply, yet profoundly, means you understand how and why the person spoke, acted, and “sees” things the way they do. 

From the lens of looking to resolve a conflict or dispute, and this is regardless if you are the person involved or trying to assist other people who are involved, empathy is incredibly important.  It is very difficult, or nearly impossible, to assist someone if you do not understand their position and reasons behind the position. 

Taking a moment to reflect so far, hopefully you can now see how each of these elements are interconnected, just like how body language and other nonverbal communication elements are.  Utilizing one element of FAVES increases your effectiveness in the others. 

Summarize: This article started off with raising the importance of letting the other person speak.  When they are finished, summarizing shows them not only did you let them talk, but you also took in everything they said.  Summarizing, combined with validating, repeats back to them a condensed version of everything they said while including the key points and emotions.

Remember eye contact is key throughout this process.  People often associate eye contact with listening however it does not mean you should stop once you begin to talk. 

A ‘hidden’ last element to FAVES is another “S”.  Silence is often overlooked yet arguably one of the most important mediation and conflict resolution skills someone can have.  Using silence encourages others to continue talking while allowing you to gather more and more information. 

Reflect on how important your body language is while listening.  Ask yourself if your body is encouraging them to continue and are you showing them you really are interesting? 

Using rapport building nonverbal communication cues such as eye contact, direct body orientation, forward leaning, head nodding, and open-handed gestures can contribute to using silence effectively. 

FAVES is one of the many acronyms and skills I have in my mediator and nonverbal communication toolbox to help me resolve disputes and conflict, generate understanding, and be an effective communicator.  Applying FAVES has worked for me in many situations and I encourage you to try it out for yourself too.

Follow Jeff Thompson on twitter @NonverbalPhD where he frequently tweets comments, pictures, and videos on nonverbal communication.