Conflict –> Communication (1)

by Megan M. on May 23, 2007 · View Comments (Blog) |

Today we peruse my notes on Turning Conflict Into Communication, and the (slightly) disorganized thoughts that stem therefrom.

There has been much discussion, of late, about HALT. I think acronyms are usually cheesy, but the concept is very sensible. Consider pausing your communication attempts if you are Hungry, Angry, Loopy, or Tired. The L was changed—I won’t say by whom—because the traditional “lonely” is a great reason to communicate, and we have all seen the aftereffects of loopy communication. Almost pointless. Have you tried to have a productive conversation with your boyfriend in pain from pending root canal? Or on Darvoset? Not happening.

Some conversations are really unditchable—but you can find a good pause point if you focus, and then you have time to regroup. I often add circumstances and stop a conversation if one or more participants is too uncertain of how they actually feel to continue productively. (Often that person is me, and I feel strongly that I should know myself before diving into problem-solving situations that affect other people!) But I don’t do this all the time, because it’s obvious to me now that sometimes confusing conversations can turn into clear conversations really fast.

Wow, do I have a problem remembering this one. We’re all on the same team. I don’t know why I forget this so quickly. I’m not some kind of relationship mercenary, battling for the higher ground, or the higher pay. And although it’s very cultural—talking to friends who are getting involved with new people, and want the “upper hand”, get me angry—I never feel that my issue is cultural. I mean, it could be. Hell, it probably is. What isn’t cultural? But I’m growing and learning and I’m still programmed. That feels like… a missing link.

The reason the “upper hand” conversation makes me angry is because when we walk into a situation wanting the upper hand, we’re setting ourselves up to feel like victims if we don’t get it. Not that having the upper hand actually consists of more than feeling like you have the upper hand—but still.

When you spar with that new boy, you’re setting yourself up for a lot of intentional non-communication. And wow, the badness that can ensue. We want them to read our minds, and then we play passive-aggressive games when they don’t. And don’t you think for a minute that I’m limiting my irritability on this subject to women. When I think of old relationships, old behaviors, old reactions—not just in others but in myself—blech.

Of course, being on the same team isn’t just about working together instead of against one another. But it was on my mind. That happens.

Involve yourself with people you can talk to honestly. People who not only have your interests at heart, but people you can believe have your best interests at heart. People you can trust to be on your team, instead of people who will mindlessly enact the traditional enemy role. I keep thinking of gender battles, games on the radio. And then I think of same sex relationships, and how it can all play out just the same way. Who trained us to use these things? Did they have any idea what they were doing?

Communication and terminology. Wow, this is a theme today. Many a difficulty is based on a standard of misunderstood definitions. I thought this thing had been ironed out, but it wasn’t ironed out in a way that both parties actually understood in the same way—so it turned into a whole new thing, that thing, another thing to be ironed out. We say something that has meaning to us and so often, to someone else, it has a meaning so dramatically different that if we really outlined the scope of it, if we all sat down and wrote our personal idiolectical dictionaries (yeah, I made that up), we wouldn’t believe it. We wouldn’t believe how different people can be whole different worlds.

So, we can realize this. We can remember it and respond calmly and rationally, collectedly, when misunderstandings occur. We can try to clarify as needed. We can calibrate our terminology to try to grasp, clearly, what another person means when they say “apple juice” or “bananasquid”. You can specifically decide how to deal with the difference in terminology, decide how you want to tone the relationship words and degree words, emotional things, non-concrete concepts. We want options when one of us thinks purple means yellow.

Imminently appropriate to the next topic, Intent, is a book I’m reading right now— That’s Not What I Meant!, which Vixen lent me. I’m having a hard time getting through it and I’m not sure exactly why. I want to read it. It’s material that really interests me. Could it be her writing style? Could it be that my attention is elsewhere lately? Intent is important. (At least, I think intent is important.) We jump to conclusions and fill in the blanks with our own experience until the thing we’re assuming we have in front of us isn’t that thing at all. Happens all the time. Finding out what someone intends by that alarming statement they just made can help to avoid all kinds of unhappy encounters.

I am particularly fond of the scenario where Person A asks what Person B intended by that rotten thing she just said, and Person B pauses for a moment before saying, “Well, I was just being an ass!” Sometimes that happens, too. Seems easier to live up to it, doesn’t it? Especially since Person A and Person B are both people I like a lot, it’s really easy for me to see how admitting asshattery can move things forward. I admit asshattery on a regular basis, myself.

Ah, it’s that time again… that time where I end this post and make a new one, that time where we realize how many pages of notes Megan really has…

  • Megan M.
    Something I have started thinking about since we covered this particular issue was how exactly these people might feel -- if I was a person trying to control the conversation and prove that I am the best, why would I be doing it, and what would I be feeling that made me want to? And the only thing I can come up with (though I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons) is that maybe I would be feeling that I want attention, or I want someone to care about me, or I want to be listened to, to feel like someone is hearing me. And of course trying to control the conversation and one-up the other participants is the worst way to do this, because everyone uses the same tactics and it just gets obnoxious.

    So the first thing I think of, when I imagine dealing with this sort of situation, is that maybe I could give them the attention they are seeking. Maybe they will see that I am giving that attention, or care, or "hearing" willingly, and not feel so desperate to make me hear them. Maybe over a little bit of time they will start to see that I am perfectly happy to hear them, and they will relax a bit, and maybe even spend some time hearing me in return!

    Short of that, I would probably just try to lead by example -- to make sure not to one-up them and just make the situation worse. Like you, my initial urge is sarcasm, but ha ha, that doesn't ever seem to work. :-D

    Thank you for this awesome comment. The Usual Error material has been really helpful to me, and I don't know what else is out there, but if you find something good and would like to let me know I would love to hear about it. I hope you find the information you're looking for!
  • Stefan
    Thanks for the blog.

    I am trying to understand why so may relatives and their friends feel they have to have the upper hand in conversation: they are like loaded guns ready to outdo you with greater achievements, travel itineraries, and will quickly switch back to their story and ignore yours, so there is no listening going on, just a cavalcade of things trotted out to impress, mixed with subtle put downs and questions like "where do you live".

    Their intent seems to be to get control of the conversation quickly as quickly as they can. Leaves a residue of anger afterwards every time. There must be some tactics I an use. Am even thinking of being much more direct: "So this is is a COMPETITION, right, and I thought we were trying to communicate, right..." The problem is that it is always dressed up and disguised as friendly conversation.

    But what makes it obvious these people have a trained intent to get the upper hand is this. Someone I know plays tennis with clubs from different suburbs around our city: the players from the affluent suburbs always carry on like this, but the players from the less pretentious suburbs never do.

    The irony is I am as wealthy as most of them.
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