Monday, February 16, 2009

The Language of Conflict Resolution

I’m learning all the time, which is good. It’s the most important thing in life--learning--and even if it’s re-learning old lessons. I re-acquainted myself with this particular lesson via a much loved/valued mentor; she said, “The best way to frame a conflict statement is, I feel (or ‘I felt’)... when you... because...

It’s unfortunate to find so many couples who don’t even touch conflict. This is probably because they don’t want to risk a screaming match, which is an instinct I definitely understand. But denying the reality of conflict is not only damaging, it’s also pointless as far as relationship growth is concerned. We must almost always address conflict, (though there are situations of notable exception).

Anger, resentment and other hurts must be addressed--we must learn to communicate these, sharing our burdens with trusted others, allowing them to help us. This speaks as much to our physiological health as it does our psychological health.

The three stage process of giving feedback is broken down as follows:

“I feel (or ‘I felt’)...”

Saying an “I” statement ensures we take ownership of our primary emotions. Primary emotions that we feel physiologically, like an uneasy feeling in the gut, or a hot forehead, are real and we mustn’t deny them.

“... when you...”

Saying this places context in your statement for the person who’s caused the feeling, but it’s framed in a way that doesn’t blame them. It’s simply saying, ‘You make me feel a certain way when you do this or that,’ but notice we’re not starting with a “you” statement, but an “I” statement.

At the end of the day, our emotions are our emotions, and no one else’s.

“... because...”

This part of the statement addresses the effect in tangible terms. It hurts because... this should be the punch line, and if we have captured their attention and they’re listening empathetically, they’ll probably connect what we’re saying with what they’ve done.

Completing the sentence

It’s important to say this as soon after the feeling we’ve experienced as possible (so long as were not emotional; we must deal with our emotions before we attempt to address conflict). We shouldn’t let these feelings linger without addressing them, and we should also try and hold these feelings in the moment so we ‘remember’ acutely exactly what it is we’re having issues with, as feelings tend to be very specific--this means fixes to address feelings can be most often hard to identify.

An example of how to use this sentence (albeit with a trivial matter) is as follows:

“I felt a little cheated when you ate the last of the ice cream because I didn’t feel you considered me, and I always hope you would. So, I feel disappointed.” (Disappointment is a primary emotion and is always appropriate).

Often times these statements need to be made simply, and of course, unemotionally, and then left with the person, without any attachment of guilt.

In summary, we must address almost all issues of conflict in our closest relationships, resisting the temptation to deny issues and problems; we must do this soon after the issue arises, unemotionally, and simply, using an, “I feel (or ‘I felt’)... when you... because...” statement.
Hopefully this method will evoke a mature and empathetic response from our partners.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

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