Thursday, October 9, 2008


Many conflicts during my childhood led me to believe that my cooperation and accommodation were the sole remedies for disputes. As a result, I had little skill in communicating my wants during conflict. Thus my youth was tainted by many frustrated efforts at cooperation, and coloured with resentment for abandoning my own desires in my efforts to create peace. Whether my acquiescence was demanded by an authority or my own anxious attempts to placate, I frequently denied honest expressions of my wants and felt very isolated because I did not realize I could ask others to listen to me.
Later in life, when I was willing to give up judging myself or my parents for my behaviours, a breakthrough occurred in my relationship with conflict. In taking responsibility and ownership for my choices, I had room to forgive myself and heal. I came to see how not expressing my wants and desires had caused my frustration, and that blaming others not only was not healing, it was not true.
I learned that loving another person did not mean I must subordinate my desires to theirs. I learned that I had to respect my own desires in a conflict, especially when others might attack and accuse me of being an impediment to a resolution. I had to learn to stay true to my genuine intentions to talk it out so that everyone could win.
This has been a great challenge - to speak out constructively without judgment or blame, to express my perspective, listen without judgment or blame, and hold my ground without conceding to others’ attempts to invalidate. Then, true negotiation can begin.
To move beyond controlling behaviours into negotiation, we must distinguish between mental and emotional experiences. Thoughts can be changed. Judgment and blame, for example, can be transformed into constructive ideas through an act of choice alone. Negotiations become brainstorming sessions, where the only rule is to accept every idea and invalidate none of them. As judgments disappear, brainstorming becomes a very creative process. Unexpected solutions appear that serve all sets of wants and desires. However, in order for judgment and blame to end, negotiations must allow for the expression of emotional honesty.
When resolution talks remain at the level of thoughts alone, without including peoples’ emotional experience, negotiations get stalled. Feelings, unlike thoughts, cannot be readily changed, at least not until they are accepted and felt. When the feelings that are evoked during conflict are recognized as constructive messengers, without the need to be judged or controlled, the present moment -- our point of power – suddenly becomes available. Creating mutually satisfying resolutions requires that we learn how to make it safe to be emotionally open and honest, and to set aside the personal agenda to win at any cost.
In all relationships there must exist an element of mutual decision making. This is a fundamental skill in negotiating conflict resolutions. Granted, that ability is set aside for a few years between parents and children. Nonetheless, all effective relationships which pursue constructive acts of creation allow for mutual decision making. The less one-sided decision making is, the more creative and powerful the relationship.
However, the moment we abandon mutual decision making, the decision-maker becomes dominant and inequality characterizes the relationship. Wants, desires and choices are dominated by one person. Honest responses to requests are subordinated to the desire to dominate and control.
When requests are not always listened to and responded to honestly, the capacity for expressing wants diminishes. Requests often become demands, yet are framed as requests. The listener is asked to set aside any distinction between asking and demanding. As soon as requests turn into demands, a system of rewards and punishments arises to enforce domination and control.

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