CONFLICT: A COMIC STRIP LOVER’S GUIDE
In an early post on this blog I discussed the fact that often the reason why people might call you a name, insult or tease you is that they have a conflict with you (see the posts titled DIG FOR THE CONFLICT, CONFLICTS AND FRUSTRATION, and SUMMARIZE AND DELAY).
For many of us, as soon as we see that someone has a conflict with us, we get defensive, and perhaps we might shout out something like, “How dare you speak that way to me!” or “You’re a stupid idiot!”
When you become a master at dealing with name calling, insults and teasing, rather than becoming defensive, the first thing you do is to let the person who has a conflict with you know you care that he or she is upset. Then you artfully summarize the conflict that has led to the disrespectful behavior even when you are being insulted. You can learn to do this, but it takes some practice. With the help of our comic strip friends, we can learn this skill while having some fun as we go about doing so.
We’ll begin by reviewing what a conflict is, then discuss the plan to summarize a conflict, and then we’ll practice using this plan by looking at comics that depict a conflict.
What is a Conflict?
In the above Peanuts comic, despite Peppermint Patty’s delightful attempt to convince the teacher to raise her grade, the teacher won’t bend. Do you think Peppermint Patty has, at any point in this comic, a conflict with her teacher? How do you define a conflict?
Some of my students respond to these two questions by saying something like,
When people are upset about something they have a conflict. When they aren’t upset anymore, BINGO, the conflict is resolved. Peppermint Patty seems to be upset about her grade, especially in the next to last scene. Therefore she has a conflict with her teacher.
In the very last scene, Peppermint Patty still doesn’t look happy, but perhaps the teacher’s comment praising her oratory skills has lifted her spirits enough so that she is no longer upset. If so, does this mean her conflict has been resolved?
I get mixed answers to this question.
Some of my students, when thinking about the meaning of conflict, talk about someone getting in the way of someone else’s desire. If Peppermint Patty feels her teacher is getting in the way of her desire to get a higher grade, she has a conflict with her teacher. Saying “getting in the way of someone’s desire” is the same as saying “interfering” with someone’s desire.
Still others emphasize guilt—if Peppermint Patty believes her teacher is guilty of doing something wrong, she has a conflict with her.
When I say I have a conflict I mean that I have a desire, I believe that someone is likely to do something that interferes with my desire, and I believe that someone would be guilty of doing something wrong if the person does interfere with my desire.
When I have a conflict, I think of the word DIG and it reminds me to dig to find what I DESIRE in this situation,
what is INTERFERING with my desire,
and why I believe someone is GUILTY of doing something wrong.
I see conflicts as types of triangles.
Let’s pretend that you are Mrs. Snyder, the mother of this tied up boy, and you get this phone call from this librarian. Let’s call the librarian, Ms Jones. You feel that the way Ms Jones is shouting at you is disrespectful. But instead of shouting back at her, you decide to first let her know in a caring way that you understand that she is upset. Then you summarize the conflict. If you will, please utilize the word DIG to remind you of the words, desire, interfering and guilt. Then come up with a statement that you would say to the librarian that includes a brief description of the conflict to her in two or three sentences. After you give this a try, compare your statement to mine.
Here’s my statement to the librarian:
I can hear that you are very upset, Ms Jones. I think I understand your conflict with us. You desire to get the library’s book back. Interfering with your desire, my son has not returned the book and you feel that he is guilty of being wrong for not returning it. Is that correct?
This type of statement takes less then a minute of your time. It helps both you and the other party in the conflict to clarify what the conflict is all about. You will find that many times you think you know what the conflict is all about, but it turns out that you missed something very important. By presenting your summary statement in the form of a question, you give the other party a chance to clarify what all of the issues are.
Now, when the librarian indicates that she has a conflict with you, you may be tempted to bring up a conflict that you have with her. For example, if you are Mrs. Snyder, you might feel that you have a desire that Ms. Jones speak to you in tones indicating respect. Interfering with this desire, you feel her shouting is disrespectful. You feel she is guilty of being disrespectful. In most situations you would be wise to put this secondary conflict on hold until the first conflict that came up is worked on for a bit, and then some time has passed until the sea of conflict has calmed. We’ll look at some exceptions to this rule in future posts.
Let’s try another one:
In this comic, if you will, make believe you are Peppermint Patty. See if you can come up with a statement to Marcie that summarizes Marcie’s conflict with you. Try to make it consistent with the DIG Conflict Model. Then compare it to mine.
Here’s the statement I came up with:
Marcie, I can see you are really upset with me. Let me see if I understand the reason why. When you lend something to me, you desire that I return it. I’ve been interfering with your desire when I’ve borrowed quite a few things from you and I haven’t returned them. You feel that I am guilty of being wrong to keep doing this. It that right?
To come up with my statement, I first tried to come up with something that showed Marcie that I cared that she was upset. If this was a real situation, I would make sure that when I said the first sentence in my statement, I looked at least two seconds into Marcie’s eyes in a caring way and I used a tone of voice designed to let her know I am concerned about what is going on. As I continued to design my statement, I thought to myself that I have to DIG for the conflict. Then the letters in the word “dig” reminded me to try to find Marcie’s desire, what she thinks I have done to interfere with her desire, and what she thinks I’m guilty of doing wrong. Notice that I ended my statement with a question that invites Marcie to correct anything I might have said that she thinks is wrong.
Let’s try one more.
Pretend, if you will, that you are Linus. Keep in mind that when someone is angry with you, as Lucy is, it’s probably not the best time to discuss philosophy. See if instead of the comments Linus makes in the comic, you can summarize the conflict Lucy has with you by utilizing the DIG Conflict Model. Then you can compare it to mine.
Here’s my statement to Lucy:
Lucy, I can see you’re upset with me. Let me make sure I understand why. You desire that I not tear any covers off of comic magazines. I interfered with this by tearing the cover off of the magazine in your hand. You feel I’m guilty of being stupid. Is that right?
To be effective, I have to make sure that I say the first sentence in this statement while looking squarely into Lucy’s eyes and I use a tone of voice that expresses that I care about the fact that she is upset. If you are not sure about how to express that tone of voice, consider making an appointment with an acting coach. Just a single lesson usually is enough to teach you all that is required to master this important skill.
The key words that identify the three conditions of a conflict.
When using DIG to remind you of the three components of a conflict, it’s important to know some related words for “desire,” “interfere,” and “guilt” because when you are involved in a conflict it helps to vary your statements.
- When individuals have a “desire” that some act will occur, they sometimes say they “want,” “need,” or “have a goal to achieve” it;
- An act that “interferes” with another act “prevents,” “obstructs,” “gets in the way,” “is incompatible,” “injures,” or in some other way makes it less likely or less effective.
- Someone who is “guilty,” is often said to be “responsible,” or is to “blame” for the behavior. Or we feel that the guilty party “should have not done” the behavior, or that the person did something “wrong.”
Keep this in mind when you summarize a conflict. By doing so, you will come to realize that you don’t always have to use the words “desire,” “interfere,” and “guilt” in your summary statement. You can just use the word DIG to remind you of what to look for, but you can use other words to describe the three components of a conflict. In this way, your summary statements can be created in a way that sound better to your ear.
Well, there’s your lesson for today. I understand that there is more to resolving a conflict than the art of showing caring and summarizing the conflict. We’ll get to all of the crucial skills necessary to resolve conflicts in future blog posts.
In time you will find that the skill of summarizing a conflict is enormously helpful. If you continue to follow this blog, you’ll meet up with some more practice sessions. Eventually you will find that you can summarize a conflict as smoothly as you can name the people in your home. And when you get that smooth at doing so, you’ll find that people in your community will come to have a higher respect for you.
Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.