Dealing with conflict and volatility: “You’re being irrational!”

"Question"—Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Question”—Einstein by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

Be a skilled listener

“Talk to me” is the motto for the New York City hostage negotiations team. When dealing with extremely dangerous, volatile, and emotionally-laden situations, the most effective skill is active listening. The best negotiators interrupt less and listen more. They ask questions, generally simple ones. The same can be said for negotiating differences of opinion in any relationship.

There is a universal desire to be heard and understood. Often people become angry and irrational because they can find no other way to be heard. When people shout, repeat themselves, withdraw, or attack, you can surmise that they feel and resent not being heard.

Hold off responding to their actions or behavior. Do not argue. First you need to really listen and understand their underlying interests.

Skilled listening will satisfy their desire to be heard, build trust and connection, and buy time in a difficult situation. Skilled listening is more likely to win the other person’s consideration toward you and is one of the best ways to find out the other person’s interests so you can find creative solutions.

Ask simple questions

Rather than arguing, ask questions to uncover the other person’s underlying desires and needs. Often the most powerful question is the simplest question, and may even feel like an obvious one. Rather than objecting, arguing and responding, just truly listen in order to understand the other person’s perspective.

Minimal prompts are best, “Hmmm.” “Go on.” “I see.” But it’s critical that body language conveys that you are interested in what they have to say. Demonstrate curiosity and understanding, not skepticism or contempt. For example, lean forward, look at the person, and demonstrate a relaxed interested demeanor.

Check your understanding

Every now and then repeat back and paraphrase what the other person says to make sure you’re getting that perspective right. Mirroring the other person should be neither a linguistic trick nor compliance, but a true effort to reflect back the other person’s perspective.

Many high stakes professions involve active listening and mirroring. Think of pilots talking to the control tower and how each repeats what the other has said. Think of doctors and assistants during surgery, as well as lawyers and court reporters in court proceedings.

Showing that you understand and that you are addressing a person’s interests calms everyone down and makes problem solving possible. Mirroring the other person also builds rapport. The goal is to get the other person to say “Exactly!” when you paraphrase him or her.

Start with broad open-ended questions that don’t have a yes or no answer.

1. “Talk to me.”

2. “Would you explain to me your situation.”

3. “I would like to understand what your perspective is on the matter.”

4. “Tell me about your needs and desires and what you’re hoping for.”

Insights emerge from what the other person says and doesn’t say.

Then ask narrower questions, such as,

“You say you want to have more time together. Can you say more about that.”

Eventually you can ask more specific yes or no questions.

“Would you feel happy if we could a weekly date night and Saturday afternoons together?”

While hostage negotiations are much more explosive than typical day-to-day negotiations or relationship conflicts, the same principles hold. Research shows that the most successful sales people talk less and let the buyer talk more. Happy couples spend more time trying to understand and support their partner than trying to drive home their point and get their way. So, to become happier and more successful in your relationships, move away from the football metaphor of offense and defense to that of a scientist and focus on curiosity and understanding.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Reference: Professor Seth Freeman’s “The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal.” Thanks to Professor Freeman and his excellent Audio course from The Great Courses.

Read “Conversation and Active Listening: ‘It seems like I do all the talking.’”

Read “Didn’t you hear what I just said!”

Watch “Dealing with Angry People.”

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Guest Author Sam Vaknin: Big Organizations and Government Stonewall and Obstruct. Why Is That? Is It in Their Nature?

"Intimidator" Theo Fleury by Mimi Stuart©  Live the Life you Desire

“Intimidator” Theo Fleury by Mimi Stuart©
Live the Life you Desire

GUEST AUTHOR Sam Vaknin writes: Collectives – especially bureaucracies, such as for-profit universities, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), the army, and government – tend to behave passive-aggressively and to frustrate their constituencies. This misconduct is often aimed at releasing tensions and stress that the individuals comprising these organizations accumulate in their daily contact with members of the public.

Additionally, as Kafka astutely observed, such misbehavior fosters dependence in the clients of these establishments and cements a relationship of superior (i.e., the obstructionist group) versus inferior (the demanding and deserving individual, who is reduced to begging and supplicating).

Passive-aggressiveness has a lot in common with pathological narcissism: the destructive envy, the recurrent attempts to buttress grandiose fantasies of omnipotence and omniscience, the lack of impulse control, the deficient ability to empathize, and the sense of entitlement, often incommensurate with its real-life achievements.

No wonder, therefore, that negativistic, narcissistic, and borderline organizations share similar traits and identical psychological defenses: most notably denial (mainly of the existence of problems and complaints), and projection (blaming the group’s failures and dysfunction on its clients).

In such a state of mind, it is easy to confuse means (making money, hiring staff, constructing or renting facilities, and so on) with ends (providing loans, educating students, assisting the poor, fighting wars, etc.). Means become ends and ends become means.

Consequently, the original goals of the organization are now considered to be nothing more than obstacles on the way to realizing new aims: borrowers, students, or the poor are nuisances to be summarily dispensed with as the board of directors considers the erection of yet another office tower and the disbursement of yet another annual bonus to its members. As Parkinson noted, the collective perpetuates its existence, regardless of whether it has any role left and how well it functions.

As the constituencies of these collectives – most forcefully, its clients – protest and exert pressure in an attempt to restore them to their erstwhile state, the collectives develop a paranoid state of mind, a siege mentality, replete with persecutory delusions and aggressive behavior. This anxiety is an introjection of guilt. Deep inside, these organizations know that they have strayed from the right path. They anticipate attacks and rebukes and are rendered defensive and suspicious by the inevitable, impending onslaught.

Still, deep down bureaucracies epitomize the predominant culture of failure: failure as a product, the intended outcome and end-result of complex, deliberate, and arduous manufacturing processes. Like the majority of people, bureaucrats are emotionally invested in failure, not in success: they thrive on failure, calamity, and emergency. The worse the disaster and inaptitude, the more resources are allocated to voracious and ever-expanding bureaucracies (think the US government post the 9/11 terrorist attacks). Paradoxically, their measure of success is in how many failures they have had to endure or have fostered.

These massive organs tend to attract and nurture functionaries and clients whose mentality and personality are suited to embedded fatalism. In a globalized, competitive world the majority are doomed to failure and recurrent deprivation. Those rendered losers by the vagaries and exigencies of modernity find refuge in Leviathan: imposing, metastatically sprawling nanny organizations and corporations who shield them from the agonizing truth of their own inadequacy and from the shearing winds of entrepreneurship and cutthroat struggle.

A tiny minority of mavericks swim against this inexorable tide: they innovate, reframe, invent, and lead. Theirs is an existence of constant strife as the multitudes and their weaponized bureaucracies seek to put them down, to extinguish the barely flickering flame, and to appropriate the scant resources consumed by these forward leaps. In time, ironically, truly successful entrepreneurs themselves become invested in failure and form their own vast establishment empires: defensive and dedicated rather than open and universal networks. Progress materializes despite and in contradistinction to the herd-like human spirit not because of it.

by Guest Author Sam Vaknin, who is the author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited and After the Rain – How the West Lost the East, as well as many other books and ebooks about topics in psychology, relationships, philosophy, economics, international affairs, and award-winning short fiction.

He is the Editor-in-Chief of Global Politician and served as a columnist for Central Europe Review, PopMatters, eBookWeb , and Bellaonline, and as a United Press International (UPI) Senior Business Correspondent. He was the editor of mental health and Central East Europe categories in The Open Directory and Suite101.

Visit Sam’s Web site.

Read Guest Author Sam Vaknin’s “Tips: How to cope with financial abuse.”

Read “Stonewalling: ‘I’m busy. I don’t have the time to deal with this right now.’”

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“Sex without affection is not working for me. But I don’t want to lose his friendship as he is such an interesting man.”

"R&B for Two" by Mimi Stuart ©

“R&B for Two” by Mimi Stuart ©

You need to have the courage to speak your mind to your friend, but you can do so in a positive and attractive way that will make you more appealing. Tell him how much you appreciate him, enjoy his company and care about him. Yet let him know what your specific needs are. You feel that a sexual relationship is more satisfying for you when there is a greater emotional and physical connection, shown through affection.

If he is not willing and happy to comply with your wishes, then tell him that you would like to continue on as friends, but not friends with privileges.

Such an clarification is not a demand or a criticism. It’s an honest expression of your own feelings and desires, and it is likely to make you more desirable to him either as a friend or a partner. If he really cares for you and is capable of it, he will become more affectionate. If not, you might retain him as a friend.

However, you should be prepared that he may abandon the relationship. If he backs away, then you’ll know where you stand. But continuing the relationship on the current terms will only leave you feeling jaded or insipid. It is important to honor your own self-worth rather than to compromise yourself in order to please another person’s desires. So honor the fact that it is not working for you to have casual sex which leaves you feeling empty.

If you lose his friendship because of your preference not to have uninspired sex, you will be better off. Remember that only you can determine what works for you and what kind of relationship is life-enhancing for you. Don’t leave that decision in someone else’s hands. Yet people have different capabilities and personalities, and they are rarely mind-readers. So it is worth the effort to express your desires before giving up on the possibilities of having a fulfilling relationship.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Watch “How to ask for more affection, intimacy and sex…and…how not to.”

Read “We broke up because of sexual incompatibility.”

Read “You never touch me! You’re not attracted to me anymore, are you?”

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Negotiating and resolving conflict: “I’m buying a new car and that’s that. ”

"Formula Farley" by Mimi Stuart©

“Formula Farley” by Mimi Stuart©

Some people face conflict by becoming overbearing while others become overly accommodating. The key to problem-solving is to get away from focusing on positions and move to focusing on underlying interests and concerns.

Interests vs. Positions

Interests rarely conflict, whereas positions often do. To avoid taking positions and getting nowhere, you need to take the time to figure out what the other person’s interests are. It’s best to start out by gaining rapport and being willing to truly understand the other person’s perspective.

Here are five key steps in successful communication when facing opposing positions

1. Show respect. Build trust by being respectful and honest. When people feel disrespected or mistreated, they will act irrationally even if they hurt everyone else as well as themselves.

2. Listen. Give the other person a chance to be heard. Allow the other person to fully express concerns without your interrupting or being dismissive of those concerns. Often people become more flexible and accommodating when someone takes the time to understand his or her point of view. Moreover, when you understand another person’s perspective, you will be able have a more productive discussion.

3. Find out the other person’s underlying interest or concern. Avoid focusing on the position, for instance, “I’m buying a new car,” and find out what the underlying desires and concerns are, for instance, “I don’t want a car that might break down on the highway,” or “It would look better to my clients if I drove a nice car,” or “I’ve had a rough year, I need to do something nice for myself.”

4. Figure out what your own underlying concern is and explain it to the other person. Your position might be, “I don’t want you to buy a new car,” but your interest might be “I want us to minimize spending money because I want some financial security,” or “I want to make sure we have enough money to go on vacation,” or “I don’t want to buy a new car that loses value the moment you drive it off the lot.”

5. Creatively search for solutions together that satisfy both parties’ interests and be open to discussion. In the car-buying case, an effective discussion might involve considering concerns about long-term financial security, driving safety, and the pleasure of owning a nicer car.

Successful negotiations and dealing with conflict require patience and work. Yet the benefits of handling conflicts effectively are enormous. When you learn to collaborate with someone who has different interests than you and to handle impasses with wisdom and principles, you mitigate anger, resentment, and anxiety while enhancing your relationships and everyone’s contentment.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Conversation and Active Listening: ‘It seems like I do all the talking.’”

Read “When she gets angry, I feel overwhelmed and have to withdraw.”

Reference: Professor Seth Freeman’s “The Art of Negotiating the Best Deal.”

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Triangulation: “Two of my best friends are telling me about how bad the other is and making me promise not to say anything, and then I feel guilty.”

"In the Loop" — Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

“In the Loop”—Jim Furyk by Mimi Stuart ©

Next time one of your friends starts talking to you about another friend, you might just ask, “What would you like from me? How can I help you with this?” If they just want to vent and complain, then I would back away from the conversation because it’s just not going to make anyone’s life any better.

People “triangulate” when they bring a third person in the middle of their conflict in order to relieve their anxiety, not to improve the situation. Sometimes people allow themselves to be triangulated because they like the feeling of being included and needed. But triangulation usually involves taking sides and doesn’t end well. Listening to complaints is draining and fuels negativity.

Dealing with triangulation and dealing with derogatory gossip have much in common. Here are some ways you can respond:

1. Have empathy for the person being talked about. Take the other person’s side and play the devil’s advocate.

2. Respond with light-hearted humor.

3. Avoid getting in the middle. “I think it would be more effective if you talked to him about how you feel, rather than to me.” Or “I care about both of you and think it’s best not to get in the middle.”

4. Focus your attention on why your friend is preoccupied with talking about your other friend. “Why are you obsessed with Amanda? Maybe it would be better to focus on your own life.”

5. Be direct. “I’m uncomfortable listening to all this negativity about someone who’s not here to defend himself.”

6. Help your friend improve the situation: “Can you think of a diplomatic way to talk to her directly?” Or “Have you thought about how you may have participated in this situation?”

Part of friendship is helping with dilemmas, conflict, and relationships. However, if someone is not attempting to gain insight and improve the situation at hand, then that person may simply be using you to vent and avoid the difficult task of self-awareness and growth. In situations of attempted triangulation a friend should speak up and challenge the other person to be the best he or she can be.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Healthy Relationships and
Effective Communication

Read “Venting and Triangulation.”

Read “Triangulation: ‘My ex can’t stop complaining about me to my child. I feel like doing the same right back.’”

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“My Husband is Addicted to Texting.”

"Fly By" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Fly By” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

“I am separated from my husband because I have reasons not to trust him. Also, despite my complaints, he is online texting with WhatsApp all the time, even when he wakes up in the middle of the night and while he’s driving. Yet he never texts me or lets me see whom he’s chatting with, and he doesn’t have a job.”

Secrecy and social media

Clearly there are several issues at play here:

1. Your husband is addicted to WhatsApp.

2. He has lost interest in you.

3. Worst of all, you are losing your self-respect in this relationship.

1. He is addicted to texting.

Texting can become a real neurological addiction, which is pursued despite the harm it causes to yourself and those around you. Jeanene Swanson writes in “The Neurological Basis for Digital Addiction”:

“So what happens is, you hear a sound [alerting you to an incoming text message], and your brain says, ‘There might be something good there, I’m going to check it.’” At that point, the mesolimbic dopamine circuits are activated, and a small surge of the neurotransmitter is released in the brain. “What you’re getting addicted to is the dopaminergic hit. With texting addiction, there is an added element of waiting for a response,” Karter says. “It is the anticipation that hooks us.”

Your husband’s texting addiction is the number one preoccupation in his life. There may be others but he has not shared them with you. He is allowing this addiction to destroy his relationship with you, and he is endangering others by driving while texting. The time consumed while “chatting” is preventing him from otherwise honoring his primary relationship and getting a job.

Given that he does not admit that he has a problem, I don’t think he will change any time soon.

2. He has lost respect and desire for you.

Your husband isn’t interested in texting and chatting with you much because he knows you are always available, and he is annoyed with your complaints. He is on the defensive with you. Even if you didn’t complain, he would be more drawn to texting with others because of the anticipation of receiving responses from people who are more fun and not in constant pursuit of him.

I recommend that you stop complaining and that you stop or greatly limit your relationship with him. You should pull back from someone who treats you with indifference and with much less interest than he has in his ether-based paramours.

3. Loss of self-respect.

A loving long-term relationship requires that two people cherish and nourish the relationship. Your husband is not nourishing your relationship. Continuing to pursue him despite his indifference toward you is a turn-off to him and is causing you to lose self-respect.

You need to stop obsessing over his texting. Instead you need to invoke the self-discipline needed to move beyond a man who is living for his addiction. Don’t let the fear of being alone misguide you. As long as that fear persists, he has no need to accommodate you in any way.

Rather than focusing on him, focus on your own challenge, which is to avoid wasting your time hoping for an addict to change his ways. You could say something like, “I’m so sorry but I’ve lost respect for you and recognize that your online relationships are more important to you than our relationship. I want to be with someone who wants to do something with his life, and puts me and our relationship first. I wish you the best of luck.” I would then move on with your life.

If you stop all contact with him, he may start contacting you more, which might please you temporarily. But don’t expect too much because he will probably go right back to his addiction to more “exciting” cyber interactions. But you will have regained your self respect and your life!

Good Luck!

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Pursuit vs. Distancing.”

Read “Does she like me? She doesn’t text me like she did at the beginning.”

Watch “Pursuing Connection with a Distancer?”

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