Conflict Resolution Method: Talking from the “I”
Conflict is often caused by the language we use, not the subject.
One of the biggest reasons a discussion becomes conflict is that we feel blamed, shamed, accused, or that unacceptable demands are being made of us by another. Our sense of self is challenged and we rise to defend it, and rightly so.
This problem is not exclusive to relationships, it effects the entire world. Look at any Social Media spat or gender based argument, most of the time they go in circles with accusation followed by defence of the listeners position because they feel targeted, and then they throw it right back in the same way. It then becomes a fight for dominance of the argument, and the fight becomes nothing to do with the subject matter. Any chance of solution has then become derailed, it has become personal. Then we become stuck in a loop pattern, returning to the same fights, with the same people, and getting nowhere when we do.
100% success rate, if everyone is willing to use the method.
What we present here is without doubt one of the most successful ways to approach a subject that is stuck in conflict. It is perfect for relationships, but also useful for Group Workshops too. In fact it is essential, because in Group settings more personalities are involved and there is more chance of conflict arising between some of them. It is a fantastic approach to use in any setting, and it is surprisingly simple to repeat once the method is learnt by all the parties involved. It can work for two people or for twenty it really does not matter, so long as it is applied correctly.
This method works 100% of the time when applied correctly, and it works by avoiding the language that creates those feelings of blame, accusation, and shame, thereby avoiding the listener feeling threatened and having to defend their sense of self. Instead the focus remains on the subject matter, and avoids pointing the finger of blame, which will always cause a listener to react in self defense.
Talking from the “I” takes practice, so don’t expect to get it right first time. Try it with something simple or funny at first, just to get the hang of it. There is an example situation at the end of this article.
The Method: Talking from the “I”
We recommend using a talking stick (a pen, or anything will do), but something that signals who is speaking, and more importantly who is not. This way only one person may speak at any one time, and this is an essential aspect to maintain in any conflict resolution approach.
The basic steps are as follows:
1. Pick your subject and choose who will speak first.
2. Hold the talking stick (Only the person holding it can talk and this needs to be enforced.)
3. Avoid using words like: You, We, Us or Them (‘You’ will create blame and reaction, and ‘We, Us and Them’ are projections and opinions, and NOT what you are actually feeling, so will cause a person to become Mind based rather than Feeling based, in their communication. Do not allow talk that involves generalising or externalisation of who does what. Keep it all to the “I” so that the person discusses their experience of the issue, what they feel, and not what others supposedly do.)
4. Talk using “I” only (or ‘me’). In this way you will express your feelings, and they will be heard by others but not as a threat or accusation. (This really is the crux of the problem and why any listener reacts in the first place, and this accusation is what causes the cycle of conflict. Changing this method alone, will completely change the conflict trigger points. It will no longer cause the same reactions, and you will likely find yourself progressing quite quickly past the point you previously could not when discussing a subject. This is because now no one is feeling accused by the language, and you are no longer generalising about opinions, but are sharing your direct experience and feelings.)
5. Saying “Check”. Whenever someone starts to head back into the old habit of speaking in terms of You, We, Us or Them. Whoever is listening, needs to say “Check”, and then ask the speaker to repeat their point over, but to re-word it so as to come from the “I”. As the listener, whenever you hear the person who is talking use one of words mentioned in item #3 above, or if they start to project outwards talking about things others do, or generalising about what “men” do, or “women” do, or “people” do, or whatever. Simply say “Check” to politely stop them, then explain the error if need be, and ask them to re-phrase it using “I”. Often people know it already once they are stopped. It can be hard to re-phrase something, but this is only because you are learning a new and a better way of communicating, be firm with the person because there is always a way to word it from the “I”. This is a really important point to enforce, especially with new-comers who will be stopped many times before they figure out how to adjust. Do it. It is absolutely key to the entire conflict, and finding resolution through better communication will be achieved when you do.
6. When the speaker is finished, then they pass the talking stick to the listener, so they can respond using the same method.
Don’t expect it to fix all your problems, but it certainly will enable you to have better communication around those problems. It will diffuse any sense of accusation felt by anyone listening to what is being said by you. Don’t forget, that it takes both parties involved in a conflict to be willing to adhere to this process for it to work, so if someone is not willing then you cannot force them into it. Forcing someone to follow this method will not work, because they may not really wish to seek resolution to the conflict that they are involved in, and that may be for other reasons.
With practice, you may find it amazing just how well you are able to discuss sensitive areas that once created explosive results to talk about at all. You may then discover that actually most conflict arises because of the accusatory language used in communication, and not because we hold hugely different views of the world, and that a lot of the time just being heard properly, is enough.
In The Temple Space workshops, we have been employing this method of communication in relationships and work-groups since we began, and it never fails to work every time. Any conflict, however small, if it is not progressing is usually simply because the communication is failing due to the language being used. This method simply changes the language to remove any blame lexicon that can derail the conversation.
Employing it on public Social Media sites, on the other hand, is actually very difficult because we would have to engage the other person in the process, and that would require getting them to agree to the method, which is difficult in a public setting. But employing this method yourself in posts will work to stop others defending themselves against feeling accused. It really depends on whether that is something you feel is needed in the public domain, and I am not sure it is, but in group sharing workshops and in relationships, without doubt this method has immense value in helping people be heard, and being able to listen to another without feeling accused of something by them.
Try it. It will without doubt work wonders for you too. Any questions or experiences please feel free to comment below, or contact us on the Social Media links at the bottom of this article.
Analysing a real-life example
Person 1: “I am feeling that the washing up is only being done by me, and I wish YOU would do it once in a while.”
(This causes the listener, Person 2, to say ‘CHECK’ as the word YOU was used in an accusatory context. So the speaker tries re-phrasing it…)
Person 1: “I am feeling that the washing up is only being done by me, and I would prefer it if I was not the only one doing it.”
(This is better. It seems silly but actually keeping it away from direct accusation, while still making a request indirectly then Person 1 is able to be heard, and since they want a response to this, they then hand the stick to person 2.)
Person 2: “I hear what you are saying, but I am always having to take the dog for a walk, so if I am doing the washing up as well, then that seems unfair.”
(Notice they used the word YOU here, but it was not in the context of being a trigger, so Person 1 was OK letting it go. Person 2 continues…)
Person 2: “And besides, last week I washed up 3 days in a row, and I don’t remember you offering to take the dog for a walk at all.”
(“You” was used and it is accusatory. This would rightly cause Person 1 to say ‘CHECK’. And Person 2 would have to re-phrase the comment.)
Person 2: “Last week I washed up 3 days in a row, and I also had to take the dog for a walk. I feel that I am being asked to do two jobs unfairly.”
(This sounds less like a direct accusation, so will not force Person 1 onto the defensive. If they wish to disagree then that is fine but they will have to do it using the “I”. )
The example above is exactly the kind of way it plays out, it is often the most mundane of issues that we find hold the root of conflict. Of course you cannot function using this method in a day-to-day way, but stopping in the midst of a conflict as it becomes heated, especially with a partner who you live with and see every day, then suggesting that you both apply the method in order to both be heard, will work wonders for any relationship.
Yes, it is challenging at first, and feels very childish in some ways to be constantly trying to find a way to re-phrase your point while using the “I” to do it, but with only a little practice, and once you both see the amazing results that come from it with only the smallest amount of effort, it quickly becomes the go-to method whenever anything needs to be discussed. Importantly, no one feels quite so blamed any longer, and that is an incredible sense of relief because no one then has to constantly defend their position or sense of self and so we can finally look at what the problem is, and address it.
It is a simple method, and it is 100% effective when used correctly.
Let us know how you go. Share your experiences in the comments below, how it went for you when trying it out, or give us some feedback on our Social Media sites.
Facilitator and founder at The Temple Space. As well as working on The Temple Space projects, Mark has authored books and composed music, some of which can be found on The Temple Space website, through the links below, or via www.mdkberry.com