It takes TWO to make a conflict. Both people believe they are right and the other is wrong, insane, delusional or unreasonable…or all of the above. Then the blaming begins as to who started it, who insulted whom and so on. Then there are the “You” statements, like “You were a jerk”, “You betrayed me”, “You lied to me”, or, “It’s your fault”. My personal favorite is the “Look what you made me do” line.
In scenarios like this, each person spends a lot of time blaming the other and justifying their own behavior. The more one is blamed, the more they feel defensive and the more they justify their behavior. It is a cycle with no resolution. It takes a long time to unravel the mess and, most of the time, the original slight, hurt feelings or other thoughtless words could have been addressed and the matter resolved very quickly. Instead, we hold resentments and they grow over time.
The human brain is hardwired to hear negativity first, most likely because we are wired for survival (the old fight or flight thing) and anything our brain perceives as a threat (even words) will put us on high alert. It takes five times more effort for the brain to take in a positive comment or thought than a negative one. Think about how many times you heard someone say something nice and immediately wondered what the catch was.
To top it off, once the adrenaline of defensiveness is rushing, it takes a good 20 minutes to calm down to get back to the part of the brain that actually listens. All too often, we react to the words someone says and do not take the time to find out what they really meant. We assume we know what the speaker means but we rarely ask if our assumptions are correct. I mean, what if we ask and hear something we do not want to hear. How do we handle it when someone is upset with us and tells us so?
So, what’s the solution? It’s actually a series of solutions that all work together and the result is….communication. It takes two people to play; one is the speaker and one is the listener, then they take turns until the conversation is done. This set of skills takes practice.
Those skills are: listening for understanding, asking questions to test assumptions, clarifying for understanding, self-management (self-soothing) when we hear things that are hard to take, acknowledgment of our own behavior, saying how we feel or felt, taking personal responsibility for our actions, giving the other person a chance to speak and putting yourself in the other’s place. And of course, all of those skills apply to both people.
My next posts will address the listener and the speaker in turn. So, check in for the continuing series to see how conflict becomes communication.
Till next time, Karen