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JOURNEY TO WHOLENESS - April 2016 - Kansas City
Facing the Challenge of Conflict to Collaboration
By Jude LaClaire, Ph.D.
One thing is very predictable. You will have many opportunities each day to deal with conflict. It might be with a co-worker, a supervisor, a friend or family member. The question is, “What do you do with that challenge?”
When faced with conflict one might respond by avoiding. You can change the subject or remain silent. Another strategy is to counter-attack or become defensive. A third and more deadly is to be contemptuous with sarcasm, ridicule, name-calling or other put-downs. We are all too familiar with this repertoire, having experienced or executed these strategies. None of these help us to establish good connection or collaboration.
Dr. Daniel Wile, author of After the Honeymoon: How Conflict Can Improve Your Relationship, suggests that “Those in an adversarial interaction are in need of a conversation of reconciliation in which each partner (person) appreciates the other’s point of view.” How can we begin to have this awareness?
One very helpful tool is to “mirror” what a person is telling you. That means repeating, without interpretation or judgement, what you just heard. This slows the conversation a bit and gives you time to respond without reaction. The person speaking also feels heard! This approach keeps us from reacting in a defensive, attacking or contemptuous way. The other person may clarify or state more of what he or she wants to share. Of course, it is helpful if both people in the conversation can do this. You may be surprised that if you mirror someone, they will respond more positively as you model this behavior.
Collaboration in relationships develop one encounter at a time. Research by relationship professionals indicate that we need at least five positive encounters for each negative one. It is also good to remember that it takes fifteen seconds for a positive experience to register in the brain and zero seconds for a negative one. This helps motivate us to keep that positive to negative ratio in the healthy range.
Another approach that has been a communication foundation for any relationship is listening for the ‘message about the message.’ This means listening with empathy for the unconscious message. Here is an example. Upon arriving home the spouse is greeted by an angry “Why are you always late? You never do what you say you are going to do.” Of course one would want to act defensively or angrily. Think instead about the unconscious purpose. Is he/she really saying something like, “I would like to spend more quality time with you?” or “I am afraid I am not interesting enough” or “I am afraid you might leave me.” Our hidden fears, wishes, lifelong dreams or low self-esteem may lie at the root of this partner’s complaint. (Dan Wile)
Harville Hendrix in Getting the Love You Want, suggests that unresolved issues from past relationships, particularly from childhood, are the major cause of many issues in relationships. He suggests that one of the purposes of the relationship is for partners to complete and heal one another’s wounds. A tool he suggests to couples is to say to each other when triggered into an emotional reaction, “When you______, I feel_______and it reminds me of____________. This can help us identify what triggers us, our emotional reaction and what it might be linked to in our past experience. This is very helpful for couples as they work with trying to hear and appreciate the source of the emotional reaction.
Each of these tools can help us to hear, appreciate and affirm the other person’s experience. It is a way to break out of the circle of negativity created by conflict and deepen the collaborative partnership. Try any one or all of them at work, at home or with close friends. You might just find more peaceful, connected relationships.
Jude LaClaire, Ph.D., LCPC, is a counselor, educator and author. For counseling appointments, seminars, training, speaking engagements or information on Neurobehavioral Programs or Imago Couple therapy call 913-322-5622. For more information about Jude LaClaire or the Kansas City Holistic Centre go to