ozarque (ozarque) wrote,

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Verbal Self-Defense; three-part messages, part three

One of the most ignored facts in the "conflict resolution" field is the fact that many conflicts are not about what they appear to be about. Often even the parties involved don't know what the conflict is about. There will be a surface issue that gets all the attention; meanwhile, the real reason for the disagreement stays buried. Constructing a three-part message often leads to resolution of conflict just because it finally brings the real source of the problem into the light where everybody involved can see what it is and get to work resolving it. This is as true in disagreements between two individuals as it is in disagreements between groups. I know no other mechanism for discovering the actual source of a conflict that works as efficiently as constructing three-part messages does -- and there is no way to solve a problem until people know what they really are angry and/or distressed about.

Selecting a single concrete behavior that you object to, determining exactly what emotion that behavior evokes in you, and then stating a verifiable real-world reason that you believe gives you the right to request that the behavior be changed isn't easy. It can be very hard work (although that problem goes away with practice). Some people aren't willing to do that work.

I've worked as mediator in situations where one person involved just refuses to participate, saying things like "I don't believe in that kind of touchyfeely crap, and I'm not going to have anything to do with it." That's easily dealt with most of the time. You say to that person (privately, not in front of other people): "That's fine; you don't have to if you don't want to. I'll be happy to do it for you. Here's what I think you'd say if you were willing to construct a three-part message... " and you state it for them as best you can, based on the information you have available. Almost always, the person will say "NO! THAT'S not it at ALL!" and correct it for you. Not always, but almost always.

In any conflict situation where everybody seems to be stuck in a kind of seething resentment -- whether it's because a teenager isn't doing his or her chores, or a boss keeps chewing employees out in public, or a spouse is spending too much of the family's money, or the doctors and nurses at a clinic are "at each other's throats," whatever -- I recommend the following steps:

1. Each of the disagreeing parties, in private, writes down their complaint(s) about the other party. The only rules are that complaints can only be in the form of a properly-constructed three-part message, and that each complaint has to have its own separate three-part message.

2. The parties exchange their written complaints, and then -- still in private -- decide, and write down, what they're willing and able to do in response to each one.

3. The parties exchange their written offers.

4. Then, and only then, the parties get together to discuss the situation and try to reach an agreement that everybody can live with.

When people do want a conflict resolved and a reasonable peace established in its place, this works amazingly well. When people are only paying lip service to the idea of achieving a reasonable peace -- when the honest truth is that they enjoy living in a situation of conflict and turmoil and combat, and would be desolate in a peaceful environment -- it won't help at all.

Tags: verbal self-defense

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