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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.



Brightstar (not linking because you all know who she is) posted today about her conflictual relationship with conflict. I'm not a huge fan either, mostly because I can't fight. I can listen, empathize, paraphrase - I can make the other person feel heard. I can also just shut down and make the other person feel like they won - or perhaps feel confused because I am just "gone." What I can't do is stick up for myself and fight for my point of view. I can state my feelings and what I am observing in the other person - but I can't just say what I need to to really get my point across.

So, it's kind of interesting that the advice for how to handle conflict encourages a lot of what I do. But for me, the problem is that I do that, but I still feel like I lost. The advice below was developed for partners - but I think a lot of this can work for any conflict (work, friends, family, etc.)

These were developed by Neil Jacobson, one of the leading (but now sadly dead) researchers on marital relationships.
  • Develop a “third side” that incorporates both points of view (use “and”)
  • See the problem as a difficulty you BOTH have rather than as something your partner does to you
  • Demonstrate you have heard partner by summarizing; ask partner to do the same
  • While arguing, do something positive for your partner with NO strings attached
  • Focus on one problem at a time (no kitchen sinking)
  • Focus on the painful reactions each experiences rather than on negative actions
  • Recognize that partner’s hurtful actions may be a defense mechanism to mask pain
  • Consider positive intentions for partner’s behaviors
  • Don’t insist that your way is the only way
  • Remember that the only person you can change is yourself
  • Vary how you argue (letter writing, emails)
  • Avoid escalations and raising your voice

Some of the things that really really don't help:

Kitchen sinking
  • Save up all complaints and address everything at same time
  • Drift to different topics
  • Lose focus
  • Overwhelm partner
  • Also a tendency to bring up “ancient history”
  • Assume you know what your partner means
  • Tend to interpret as hostile and critical when distressed
Interrupt more
  • To change topic
  • To disagree
  • “Yes-butting”
  • A way of criticizing partner
Cross complaining

Anyway, I thought this was an interesting set of findings - and thought I'd post it in case it helped anyone. For the record, when I taught this stuff in my class, two students fell asleep, and hardly anyone asked questions, talked, or seemed interested. But, I think this stuff is super interesting!


At 10:40 PM, Blogger BrightStar said...

How about when you break down and cry? I did that at work once when I got frustrated during a conflict (in a dyad), partially because I felt completely misunderstood and I had no energy left for helping the other person understand me.

Seriously, though, I find this post to be helpful. Thanks.

At 2:40 AM, Anonymous schoolsmelt said...

Hi Shrinky,
These are all excellent strategies - thanks for listing them!
I just did some research on this, and I'm so glad I've got somewhere to share one of my findings! Computer-mediated communication has a potential pitfall, because what we're trained to do offline (paraphrase/summarize) is often reduced to merely cutting-and-pasting a specific quote, and then responding to that. So, the sender's message is responded to without the receiver's understanding of it being confirmed, which leads to the rapid escalation one often sees in online discussion groups, and probably emails too. Paraphrasing can sometimes seem tedious, and we've all seen it mocked in popular culture, but it's really important to do when you're online.

I appreciate the bullets about defense mechanisms, and positive intentions--those are the things I have trouble with!

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Clio Bluestocking said...

I have the same problem as you in that I don't feel like I stick up for myself enough, yet all of my behaviors are seen as good conflict resolution behaviors.

My only problem with these is that they assume that both parties want a resolution to the conflict that will please both parties. What do you do when the only resolution that one party wants is there way?

Of course, now that I write this, I see that, should one party find their way the only acceptable way, then you have a bully. That's a whole other set of problems.


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