Reality Check: Choices in Conflict

What does it mean to win a conflict?
Does it mean that you prevailed on the issue, i.e. got your way?
Does it mean that you are recognized by others as the clear victor while your opponent is humiliated?
Perhaps you see winning as the outcome that happens when both proponents are able to walk away with heads high, having reached an agreement that both can live with, even if neither achieved exactly what they had hoped to get.
Different situations call for different approaches. In true choice theory style, I’m going to suggest that your choice of approach will be most effective if you start by asking yourself, “What do I want?”
Once you are clear about what outcome would satisfy you, choose an approach that will provide a good chance of achieving that outcome. To be able to choose an approach, many of us could benefit from two things: information and practice.
You can get information from books and research. Occasionally, you might even find a helpful article in a newspaper!
The practice part comes from…well…practice. Take your new-found information out for a test drive to see how it works. Start slowly; pay attention, see what happens. Adjust as you go along.
For example, Wanda and Fred have been bickering over how much time Wanda spends at work. Fred perceives that much of this work time would be better spent with him.
After many futile and defensive arguments, it has occurred to Wanda to ask, “What do I want?” She decides on two outcomes: she’d like the bickering to stop and she’d like the time that she and Fred do spend together to involve more love and support and less criticism and blame.
So, Wanda is clear on what she wants. What information might help her?
According to choice theory, Wanda can only control her own actions. To reach her goal of no more bickering, the change that Wanda can make is to stop bickering herself. After all, it’s hard for one person to bicker if the other won’t participate, isn’t it?
Wanda could give Fred information about the change she’s making, such as, “Fred, I don’t want to bicker with you, so I’ve decided to stop doing it.”
Another piece of useful information would be to learn what Fred wants.
Perhaps Fred’s want is obvious—he just wants more time with Wanda. That’s a possibility. However, there are other possibilities, too.
Maybe Fred wants more love and attention from Wanda. This is not necessarily connected to a lack of time together, but to how they interact when they do spend time together.
Maybe Fred wants to feel more secure in his relationship with Wanda.
Maybe Fred believes that Wanda is stressed and he wants her to have more relaxation time.
How can Wanda know what Fred actually wants? One method that’s often effective is to ask! Asking and listening to the answer can be informative, indeed.
When Wanda asks openly and respectfully, and listens to understand rather than to build her case for disagreement, she may even realize that she agrees with parts of Fred’s position.
Finally, Wanda can begin to practice her new behaviour. However, if you’re in the habit of bickering rather than conversing, it can take conscious effort to make a change.
One approach that Wanda could keep in mind is, “Would I speak this way to an acquaintance? To a co-worker? Even to a stranger?” Sometimes we save our worst behaviours for those who are supposedly closest to us, thinking that they have no choice but to accept it. Truth is, they have choices, too!
If Wanda stops her own participation in the bickering and then the tension is reduced, will she have “won” the conflict? What do you think?

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