December 17, 2010-Thoughts about Conflict

Most of my professional work has been with relationships and, usually I am called upon when there is conflict.  Rarely do I get clients coming in to rave positively about a relationship.  In my morning meditation today, I got a clear message about dealing with conflict.  This knowledge is based on what I have learned from 30 years of Marriage-Family Therapy practice but most of all based on what I have learned in my closest relationships with my five children and my husband of 45 years.  They are the most significant and most precious love relationships in my life.  They also have stretched me to my edges in terms of growth and learning about relationships.  Any close relationship becomes the laboratory in which we learn to love one another.  I always say, “It is easy to love them when they act right.  There is no stretch there!”

Steps for Conflict Resolution:

Step One:  AWARENESS (Admit that I have a bad feeling about someone who is significant to me.)

Step Two:  MEMORY (Recall the incident that seemed to cause the feeling.)

Step three:  INTERPRETATION (Notice how I describe the incident and what meaning I have given it.)

Step four: CONSEQUENCE (The prediction I make about the incident.)

Step five:  INTENTION (What I want to change)

Step six:  COMMUNICATION (Sharing with the significant other)

Steps one through five are internal thoughts done by you.  Writing out these thoughts is the best way.

Step Six is actual dialogue between two people.  This means that if you are the one who wants to make things better, you will need to request a meeting.  Tell them what it is about.  The opening statement will be like this:

“When you……………(describe the event when it all started without blame or judgment)

“I thought…………….(candidly share what you assumed)

“I felt……………..(share the bad feelings you experienced)

“because……………(tell the consequences–to you–of what happened)

“I want……………(declare your behavior change request)

Usually, when you make a statement of this kind, you will need to listen carefully to the response.  Most of the time the listener who is conscientious and cares about you will be willing to either meet the behavior change request or will perhaps make a counter offer.  Either way, you now have a dialogue in which some new common ground can be reached.  You will employ all your best listening skills during the dialogue, remembering the rule that feelings belong to the feeler.


One of my family members has talked about me negatively to another family member, describing how I didn’t return a phone call.  I get the story much later from someone else.

Using my method:

I am AWARE that I feel hurt and angry.

I recall why I didn’t return the phone call and am really getting sick at heart because they didn’t respect me enough to call me first instead of talking about me behind my back (MEMORY and INTERPRETATION)

My thoughts go in all directions predicting the worst which makes me angrier and I develop a bad case of “Poor Me”  (CONSEQUENCES)

What I want to change is, if I am mercilessly self aware, I would like them to be different.  I want them to talk with me first before telling someone else about what I have done.

The communication went like this:

Let’s call my family members Hortensia and Herkimer, changing names to protect the innocent.

Marj: Are you willing to talk with me today, Hortensia?  It is about the conversation you had with Herkimer last week?

Hortensia:  Yes

M says:  “When you and Herkimer talked about me without telling me, I felt hurt.

My thoughts went all over the map and I assumed the worst, because when my thoughts go all over the map, I usually make up the most paranoid meaning possible. What I really want is that we talk out the problem together and reach an outcome where we return to harmony, peace, and love.  “

Hortensia:  I should have called you before I talked to Herkimer.  Next time, that is what I will do.

You would have to have been there to see the real magic of these simple steps.  I have shortened the conversation, distilling it to the bare bones, yet it really does happen that way.  Nothing is better than a meaningful honest conversation.  The saving grace is ownership of thoughts, feelings, interpretations, and meaning.  Remember that no one else can ever own what you think, what you feel, what you do, or what you believe.  No one makes you feel, do, think, or believe anything.  All is choice.  We are free to choose our experience.  That is both the good news and the bad news.  Psychology 101 teaches us that stimulus comes to us; response goes from us.  Your power lies in the gap between stimulus and response, where you make the choice.