6 posts categorized "Conflict Resolution" Feed

Square or Circle: Finding Peace in a world that can feel out of control

Have you ever been frustrated with someone doing something that you didn't want them to do?

Have you ever searched every crevice of your brain to try and figure out a way to say something to someone so that they wouldn't act in a certain way toward you?

Maybe you wanted to understand how to talk to them so they wouldn't get mad. Circle square illustrated
Maybe you wanted your teenage son to understand the importance of taking his dirty dishes out of his room.

Maybe you wanted your parents to understand how they hurt you.

Whatever it is, if it didn't work, I'm guessing, you were frustrated. I want to share with you something that may help alleviate that frustration. 

Find a piece of paper.

Draw a stick figure. This stick figure is you.
Now, draw a circle around the stick figure and a square around the circle.

Your drawing should look something like the picture embedded in this post.

Now, consider this: Everything on the square happens to you, but you have little to no control over it. When your partner does something you don't like, that's on your square. If you try to have a conversation with them about your sex life and they start to yell and get mad? That's on your square and their circle.  You're not responsible for how they act or react; they are.

That's the good news.

How you act is on your circle. You are 100% responsible for how you act.

Most of the time, when you try to control something on someone else's circle (your square), you are manipulating.

This is often a great source of emotional frustration and angst for people. I will often ask clients, "Circle or Square?" when they are talking about a frustration.  The question is designed to get them to explore what they control or are trying to control.

Too often, people will be at one end of two extremes.

The first end is, "I must be doing it wrong, because my husband always gets mad no matter what I do or how I say it." The opposite end is "What my husband is doing is wrong therefore I have an excuse for my poor behavior."

Both extremes are wrong.

Simply because your spouse feels angry with you or reacts poorly to something you've done does not mean that you've done anything wrong. Yes, you can and should examine how you approached the issue. You can even ask them how you might have said whatever it was you wanted to communicate in a way that they would not have been upset/angry, etc over. 

But there reaction is 100% on their circle (they control it) and 100% on your square (you are not in control of it).

Conversely, if your spouse is engaging in poor behavior, that's on their circle (they're control) and your square (not your control.

Your reaction is still on your circle and their poor behavior does not ever excuse your own poor behavior.

I am always amazed at people who would never accept, "Well, they did it first" from their children and use the same excuse for why they treat their spouse poorly.

A natural question is what about feelings?

Feelings live in the place between our circle and square. We don't often control their creation. They happen faster than we can process.

But we absolutely control what we do with those emotions and feelings. We control what do after those feelings are created.   Simply because we're mad, doesn't mean we have to yell or be mean. We control our actions and what we do.

So the next time you are frustrated or angry, ask yourself if you're trying to control something that's on your square or circle.

If it's out on the square, you're probably going to be stuck for as long as you try to control it.

So much of our energy is spent trying to control things we do not and cannot control that we fail to utilize the energy we do have to control our own lives.

If we want to find true satisfaction, we will have to start with controlling the things we control and accepting the fact that we don't control everything. Energy spent trying to control things we can't control is energy wasted.  Energy wasted will not move us toward peace.

Find some time today, make your lists. Examine what's going on in your life. What do you control? What don't you control?






It's not what happens, it's how we attach meaning that matters

I was talking to a seasoned couple the other day. They were relaying a story that had happened to them in their everyday life. 

They were laughing about it.

I asked them if they understood how many couples would have been fighting over the very same thing that they were laughing about.

The husband looked at me very seriously and said, "Yes, I know. My brother and his wife got divorced largely over issues that my wife and I laugh about."

One of the most important things that we can consider is the fact that often what happens is less important than the meaning that we attach to that event.

This is most easily seen with couples when someone does something that they believe will be important to their partner and yet the partner does not view it that way.

The event happens but both partners view it differently.

This can also be seen by couples who have something happen and one person interprets it as bad, while the other sees it as just normal, everyday life.

Last night my wife was frustrated. Our two year old had lost her phone, while one of our older children had allowed him to play with it. Understandably, her sentences were shorter than normal.

I can get this way around payroll time. If you own a small business, you know that payroll can always be a stressful time. The question though is, does my wife apply special meaning to my general malaise?

Let's break this down.

  1. Something happens.
  2. We interpret and assign meaning to what happened.
  3. We have feelings based on what we do in step #2.

This is why most fights are unproductive. Couples spend time trying to dismiss why theother person feels the way that they do. They use energy to destroy the other person's position instead of trying to understand how they came to that position. It's not what happened but what you believe about what happened that matters most. 

Let's say that Ruby comes home from a long day of work stressed and grumpy because it was a long day. She says to Ricardo, "Did you take the trash out?" in a voice that he interprets to mean that she is mad at him. 

So he has an entire conversation in his head with her where he ends up yelling or shutting down.

Then he takes that conversation out of his head and puts it into the real world. Ruby is shocked and hurt that he would be so angry with her when she isn't angry at all. She just wanted to know if he took out the trash or if she should take out the trash. 

And now the fight is on.

The whole thing could have been avoided if he had simply clarified where she was at and where she was coming from.

If he had said, "You seem angry to me, are you angry with me?" he probably could have defused most of the situation because he would have realized that the meaning he was assigning to what was going on was vastly different than the meaning that she was assigning to what was going on.

They could have lived in the uncomfortable space of knowing that she was mad, but that it would be OK.
No emotions needed to be plundered.
I'm going to continue to explore the principles around this in the upcoming days and weeks.

Four Questions to ask during a conflict

Four questions you should be asking when you find yourself in conflict with a loved one (or anyone for that matter).

1. What do I want in this situation?

This one seems so obvious, but I have found many times that people cannot articulate what exactly what it is that they want in a given conflict. They can't explain what would satisfy them. When this is true, it is obviously difficult for the other person to know how to help the situation move to that place.

2. What does the other person want in this situation?

Again, seems obvious but so many times, people think they know what the other person wants and are quite frankly, wrong.

3. Is is possible that we can both get what we want?

Usually, we'll have to move on to number four, but sometimes it is possible for both people to get what they want. This is why the first two are so important.

4. What is a possible compromise for us in this situation?

Giving a little for both people is a great and healthy way to build a positive relationship.

Pain is a path, maybe the path to wisdom

Most of us are not so wise. Fearing the pain involved, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping that they will go away. We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist. We even take drugs to assist us in ignoring them, so that by deadening ourselves to the pain we can forget the problems that cause the pain. We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meet them head on. We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them. This tendency to avoid problems and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness. Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health. Some of us will go to quite extraordinary lengths to avoid our problems and the suffering they cause, proceeding far afield from all that is clearly good and sensible in order to try to find an easy way out, building the most elaborate fantasies in which to live, sometimes to the total exclusion of reality. In the succinctly elegant words of Carl Jung, “Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.”

Peck, M. Scott (2012-03-13). The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (pp. 16-17). Touchstone. Kindle Edition.

6 rules of communication. Beginning thoughts on conflict.

Conflict is something we all have in life. No matter how good the relationship, people disagree. Typically, we do everything we can to avoid conflict. Some people use aggression to blow the conflict up while others use passiveness and run away. Probably most of us fit somewhere in the middle of those two positions. But how do we navigate conflict in a manner that really is constructive?

Can two people disagree about politics and still truly be friends?

Can two people be really angry with each other and still engage in a way that doesn’t destroy people? I believe the answer is yes. I want to start a series (that will not be regular) on conflict and conflict resolution. Below you will find what we call the 6 Rules of Communication. I believe if you use them, you will find that they can change almost every relationship in your life. I will list them here and come back and pick them up at a later time to break each one down.

  1. 1.Facts Only—Be Honest
  2. 2.Today’s News—Deal with the current issue
  3. 3.Issues Only—Talk about the problem not the person
  4. 4.Be Intentional (don’t react)—Find a way to build your spouse up even while disagreeing.
  5. 5.ALWAYS avoid always and NEVER say never
  6. 6.Does “IT” have to be a problem?