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What sets you off? How to recognize your identity pinpoints that cause you to get defensive?

WhoAmIThe book Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss what Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, and Shelia Heen is one of my favorites. I just re-read the chapter where the authors speak of identity, and they cite three identities that a person worries about in a tough conversation, “Am I competent? Am I a good person? Am I worthy of love?” Each question can provoke defensiveness that can instigate conflict.

These three points affect how you and I see ourselves as a people. I will admit if I am in a disagreement and I feel my intelligence, my feelings towards someone or something, or my choices and beliefs are in question, I feel a need to get defensive. I had an epiphany when I first started learning about conflict, and I realized most of the arguments I had with others escalated because of personal identity battles with which I was struggling.

My second-grade teacher called me stupid in front of my class and unfortunately, it was not a onetime occurrence. I spent most of my life believing I was stupid and using this experience as a crutch. I reflected on this experience, and I determined that I gave my second-grade teacher’s comment power by believing it and therefore, I did myself a disservice because I could have achieved a lot more. I began noticing that every time someone called something I said into question, I felt like they were inquiring my competency, and I would get defensive.

When you get defensive what happens?

  1. You stop listening. The moment you feel defensive you automatically jump into fight mode, thinking of your next comeback.
  2. You may say things you do not mean, make accusations, and draw conclusions about something that was not mentioned. I call this the groundhog effect. When Groundhogs feel trapped, they attack. Humans do the same thing in an argument when you feel stuck you get defensive, and you attack.
  3. You make a resolution more difficult. If you get defensive you stop listening, then the person you are disputing with does not feel heard or acknowledged. If you attack, say things you don’t mean, make accusations, or draw conclusions about the unsaid, you then have to work through the hurt feelings that arose between you and the other person.

Identity is something humans hold dear. Defensiveness occurs when we see ourselves a certain way, and it is called into question or criticized. There are some cases that call for defensiveness when people are outwardly mean and deliberately trying to hurt your feelings. I am not discussing these particular incidents; I am referring to our sensitive hot spots that provoke defensiveness when it is not necessary.

When someone critiques or questions something I say, I actively try to stop my conscience from thinking they are calling me incompetent. I also do the following things:

  1. Listen and hear out what the person is saying. In the past I would hear a critique and stop listening. Now I listen to the whole statement before I react.
  2. Recognize that what you hear i.e. tones, sarcasm, etc. may not be intentional, therefore you must also clarify. I have said to my fiancé on numerous occasions, “When you said [fill in the blank] did you mean it sarcastically?” Most of the time, what I am hearing is not what he intended, or he will admit frustration with something else and that is why he had a tone or was sarcastic.
  3. Acknowledge what provokes you to get defensive. You are the only person that can know your triggers and therefore, when pushed you are responsible for how those situations are handled.
  4. Learn to take constructive criticism. If you want to get better in life, you must be able to take criticism because that is the only way to get better. Recognize not everyone is out to get you and most want to see you succeed.

I challenge each person to look inward and find out what identity pinpoints provokes defensiveness; awareness is the first step towards constructive change.

Abigail Clark M.S Negotiation and Conflict Management

Apprentice

 

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Being open-minded after I do – A discussion and tips on the blending of an intercultural relationship

blogIn six months, I will be getting married and one of the Pastor’s requirements was to meet with him and discuss how we plan to handle certain topics such as money, parenting, and marital expectations. The meeting was fairly easy as my fiancé and I share similar views and values on most of the topics covered. The other day at school, I was speaking to a friend who is also getting married around the same time as me, to a man from a completely different religious background. My friend is Catholic and her fiancé is Hindu. She will be blending two different religions into one household; I couldn’t help but think to myself how challenging that must be for a couple. Religion is one of those dinner party topics you are supposed to avoid because of the conflicts that often arise when they are discussed. However, a couple that is about to get married does not have the luxury of avoiding such topics. I began to research the challenges intercultural marriages face, and the majority of the information I found discussed the ability to learn, understand, accept, and adjust to one another’s cultures.

In an article found on Marriage Missions International, initially written in Steve and Mary Prokopchak’s book, Called Together, they first caution intercultural couples to “Know each other’s culture.” Intercultural couples must have an understanding of one another’s culture, beliefs and values, as these are part of what makes up a person’s identity. A lack of understanding has the potential to raise fierce conflicts later on in marriage.

Herbert G. Lingren, an Extension Family Life Specialist, warns a value conflict may occur if, “two people have different attitudes, beliefs, and expectations. These differences may interfere in making decisions if we are inflexible and hold rigid, dogmatic beliefs about the ‘right way’ to do things.” Communicating, understanding, keeping an open mind, and respecting one another’s beliefs and customs can alleviate a lot of the disagreements an intercultural couple faces.

In an article originally published in the Washington Post, Rebecca R. Kahlenberg, a freelance writer, suggests “Negotiate and renegotiate dicey issues. Ideally, the time to discuss and make agreements about intercultural topics is before the wedding. What are each of your commitment levels to your culture?” Prior to getting married it is imperative that an intercultural couple discusses in detail what cultural expectations each has and how they will address differences as they arise.

Lastly, Steve and Mary Prokopchak encourage “Accepting and appreciating as many of the differences as you can will serve to enhance the marriage relationship. This experience is not to be viewed as all negative. The differences are something to embrace and value in one another.” While the blending of two different cultures may seem challenging at times, the positive outweighs the negative when looking at the big picture. An intercultural couple learns to be more open-minded and tolerant towards other people’s values and beliefs. If the couple then chooses to have kids, their kids will also grow to be more tolerant and open minded, which in today’s society is absolutely needed to make the world a better place.

My aforementioned friend said that despite the challenges she and her fiancé have and will face, she has come to love and appreciate Hindu customs. She said she looks most forward to kids and sharing with them all of the wonderful elements that both religions have to offer.

 

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student, University of Baltimore –

Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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Sexual Orientation: Conversations that strengthen community in challenging times


Bob StainsWhat happens when deep differences in theology, politics or identity turn into divisions in communities of faith? What initiates and fuels division? What conversations can build connection and care in the midst of profound differences? This evening we will discuss rebuilding relationships by enhancing conversation with lessons and tips from the Reflective Structured Dialogue approach of the Public Conversations Project. PCP has been working successfully with deeply divided communities of faith at local, national and international levels for the past 20 years.

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