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How to Resolve Conflicts Involving llamas and Straightening Irons

by Alison Rosen

Before I met my husband, I was convinced effective interpersonal communication, the kind that actually resolved conflicts and brought people closer together, was a myth propagated by Dr. Drew and people who practice yoga and wear those awful shoes that are like gloves for your feet. Telling people how you feel and having them hear it and validate it without growing defensive? It sounded nice, but I’d never experienced it.

On the contrary, I had experienced the communication where you try to talk to someone and it ends up in a frustrating yelling match where everyone is convinced everyone else is a jerk. It makes you upset that I did this thing? Well it makes me upset that you’re upset and not only that, it’s offensive and insensitive of you to think that I meant this when clearly I meant that and also, go to hell.

As such, I began to fear ever communicating my real feelings if they were negative. I was convinced it would only make things worse if not end the friendship or relationship entirely. If I were upset by something, I would pretend I wasn’t, because trying to discuss it wasn’t going to help. I’m probably just being too sensitive, I told myself. I’d bend myself in a million directions trying to find a way of looking at it so it was my fault in order to avoid having to deal with anything outwardly. I’ll just start with the man in the mirror, I thought. (His name was Hal. Still don’t know how he got there.)

Now, I’m a pro at communicating.

(Truly. I just told my dog that when pulls tissue out of the trash and shreds it I feel emotionally unsafe.) As an expert on how to have a discussion based on hurt feelings, I thought I’d offer a handy dandy cheat sheet, should you ever find yourself having an uncomfortable discussion with me. Granted, it might work with other people as well. Hopefully it will. But it will definitely work with me.

Step One: Listen without growing defensive. Let’s use an everyday scenario to illustrate. Pretend you have a pet llama named Jack. You and Jack come over to my house, and Jack eats my straightening iron. I might feel sad and annoyed and frizzy. Instead of telling me that I overstraighten my hair, and you know someone whose credenza was eaten by a donkey so all things considered it’s not a big deal, all of which will only heighten my negative feelings because I think you’re trying to talk me out of them, just let me tell you how the situation made me feel. You will get your chance to speak as well in a little bit.

Step Two: Mirror back to me what I said. “I see. So if I’m hearing you correctly, when my llama ate your straightening iron you felt sad and annoyed and frizzy? Anything else?” Step Three: Validate. “I can see where you would feel that way. I think I would probably feel that way too if a llama ate my straightening iron. I’m so sorry.”

By this point I’m loving you, and Jack and feeling great.

But wait, what about your side of things? What about the fact that since you adopted a special needs llama your life has been turned upside down and no one understands and all your friends have been distancing themselves, and, frankly, it hurts you the way they seem to care more about their possessions than their friendship with you?

Go ahead and give your side of things.

Steps one through three will be repeated with the roles reversed. I will listen to you without growing defensive and mirror it back and validate it. Then both of us will have been heard and feel that the other cares about us, which is pretty much, in my experience, all anyone wants.

Unless they’re some kind of jerk. Hear more from Alison Rosen on her podcast, “Alison Rosen Is Your New Best Friend” or on the immensely popular “Adam Carolla Show” podcast. Follow her on Twitter @alisonrosen or visit her website at www.alisonrosen.com. !

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