Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I feel like you are an idiot

It is ever present, lurking in the weeds. It surfaces when we least expect it, and often where we least anticipate it. It throws a wrench into the seemingly finely oiled machinery of our lives. conflict.

We see a man on a crowded bus, occupying his adjacent seat with a stack of Reader's Digests and half a pack of Juicy Fruit, refusing to clear it away for the elderly woman standing in the aisle. Then, we notice the teenager sitting behind us shove his empty McDonald's bag under his seat.

The slow burn begins. We fantasize about what we'd like to say to these cretins. We weigh the benefits and costs of confrontation. Ultimately, no reprimand is made, and life continues with the residue of the incident coating our thoughts.

When we finally decide to act on our emotions, to meet a conflict head-on, it's usually not with a stranger, but with a child, a spouse a co-worker or a service provider.

I'm sure many of us have learned that "I feel" statements work far more effectively than "You..." statements. Here are some examples to illustrate conflict resolution tactics, first with the accusatory "You" reprimand, followed by the conciliatory "I feel" method:

(To our child, incorrectly) "You're torching me with such an inferno of fiery anger that my spleen feels like that tree the Keebler elves live in, and they're stabbing me with little fudgy swords."
(To our child, correctly) "I felt strange when you spent your birthday money from Grandma on Marlboro Lights."

(To our spouse, incorrectly) "You're really, really mean to yell at me for eating all the bacon."
(To our spouse, correctly) "I felt confused when the FedEx guy rode away on my bike."

(To our co-worker, incorrectly) "You suck at your job and you need to stop wearing Old Spice."
(To our co-worker, correctly) "I felt angry when you told everyone about my male support hosiery. They help my varicose veins and I feel pretty in them."

(To the food service worker, incorrectly) "I ordered the angel hair pasta. You brought me pasta with a hair angel in it."
(To the food service worker, correctly) "I felt ill when you put my five dollar footlong in your armpit as you handed me my drink."

Hopefully, the preceding examples clearly illustrate how simple it is to resolve conflict in a constructive, rather than destructive, manner. Try it tomorrow. On the bus. With the crazy, smelly guy.

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