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4. Problem Solve with Benevolence. Be certain to clarify your intention (especially in conflict communication) as seeking a satisfactory outcome for both of you. Find common ground on which to base your communication (i.e. “We each want to be heard completely and accurately,” and/or “We need to make a decision about . . . “) Avoid seeking agreement about perceptions or feelings as a communication goal. There must be room for both of you to win.
5. Future Orient to Problem Solve. Those who forget past are, in fact, doomed to repeat it. True. But those who won’t let go of past may also be contributing to its repetition. In conflict communication it is best to state complaints about past behaviors clearly and concisely, and then to “future orient.” That is, sink most of your energy into describing and/or requesting what you want or need from your partner beginning now. You must be willing to take chance that your partner wants to and can change along with you. (If you are not able to muster any faith that your partner is willing and/or capable of change, you are probably not working on most serious problem in your relationship. Get some help.)
6. Take Breaks. Each of you must have authority to call time out. And each of you must learn to respect time outs when they are called. Call time out when you recognize old, dysfunctional patterns of communication taking over. (They seem to have a life of their own.) When you call time out, it is imperative that you later initiate a time to talk again. Don’t just leave it hanging.
7. Backtrack. This is my favorite tool, probably because I have had to use it so often. All progress is not forward. Sometimes best you can do is stop mid-mistake, apologize and ask for an opportunity to try again (“do overs” I believe we used to call them). But be careful to not ask for that chance if you do not think you can follow through with some new and improved communication. If you are not ready yet, try apologizing and step back to step 6: take a break.
Keep this collection of tools handy, and make use of them next time you experience a communication problem. Better yet, use them before you experience a communication problem. And remember: You cannot solve many problems from adversarial positions. Work to stay on same side of problem, and practice having conversations to "convey" rather than to "convince."
Thom Rutledge is a psychotherapist and the author of several books. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org www.webpowers.com/thomrutledge