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Conflict? One Question Can Make All the Difference

This week, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to myself and several other people—in different instances—get angry at someone else.You know the drill.All of us were using words like “manipulative,” “inconsiderate,” “taken advantage of,” “anal,” or “depressed,” to describe the people who had triggered the loop of accusations in our heads.It’s an automatic response, I think.Something happens to hurt, frustrate or anger us and we’re off and running with explanations about what the person was doing and thinking and what their motivations were.Each explanation makes us more frustrated and more hopeless that anything will ever change.

One question changed this downward spiral.That question was, “what did you want in this situation that you weren’t getting?”For each person--client, friend, me, that question stopped us in our tracks. It changed the trajectory of the conversation.Each of us had to stop and think.“What did we want?”We had been so focused on how we had been wronged and why we had been wronged, we were totally clueless.

Marshall Rosenberg (http://www.cnvc.org/about/marshall-rosenberg.html ), whom I have mentioned many times, calls this shift of attention from the outer issue to the inner need, “shining the light of consciousness” on the thing that is most likely to help us.Because if we understand the need we have that isn’t being met, we have a much better chance of doing something to get it addressed.

This has proved to be true time and time again as I have wrestled with my own issues, worked with my clients and listened to my friends.For one of us it was “time in my garden.”For another it was “acknowledging how hard it is for me to manage the kids by myself.”For a third it was “trust that I will take care of it.”Each time a person “got” the need, you could sense the shift in the conversation.There was a sigh (was it of relief?) and an upward movement of the eyes (which signals thinking) and problem solving language, “maybe I could just say I need help.”The whole tone of the conversation was different—it was more hopeful, more empowered, more optimistic.

I believe this kind of shift in our conversation and our thinking is critical if we are to have more satisfying lives and relationships—at home and at work.One question, thoughtfully answered, can make all the difference.Susan Scott, in Fierce Conversations, said, “our work, our relationships, and, in fact, our very lives succeed or fail, gradually, then suddenly, one conversation at a time.”Each conversation matters.What type of conversation do you want to have?

Plum Cluverius, PCC is an executive coach with over 30 years experience in leadership development.She lives and works in Richmond, Virginia.

2 Responses to "Conflict? One Question Can Make All the Difference"

  • Joyce
    April 12, 2012 - 4:39 pm Reply

    My recent volunteer work offers an opportunity to self-examine warning signs for burnout and I think you are describing one of them. It’s a really good way to direct action from that self-awareness. Another ingredient to consider is the “judging” reflected in those emotional reactions recited at the opening of the blog post. Judge not!

  • Plum
    April 22, 2012 - 2:37 am Reply

    I hadn’t thought about separating observations and judgments as burnout prevention but I can see how it would help.

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