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Turning Your Kaleidoscope for a Different Perspective

kaleidoscope-2186166_1920I grew up in a family addicted…addicted to conflict drama. Our family’s drama resulted from a single grandparent trying to raise three grandchildren on a limited income. I learned to survive my grandmother’s potent rage by observing and avoiding things that might trigger her wrath. I was adept at avoiding potential conflict and confrontation. Today, I am a recovering conflict avoider.

As a child, I learned that the only perspective that mattered in the conflict game was my grandmother’s viewpoint. I remember she had a pair of binoculars in an old brown, canvas case. She used it when we would visit the beach to watch birds or see the ships in the far distance. The binoculars were a way to get close and see things from afar more intimately; however, it also provided a narrow viewing field. We used a similar telescopic lens when seeing situations that triggered my grandmother.

For years, I used a telescopic perspective and stayed hyper vigilant to the signs and signals so as not to disturb the periods of time that were calm and peaceful. I honed my conflict avoidance skills, but these same skills did not serve me well as I entered into adulthood.  I became more self-aware that other perspectives than my own existed and questioned how could it possibly be that others didn’t think the way I did. I stopped using the binoculars if you will and learned how to use a kaleidoscope.

The Kaleidoscope was one of my most fascinating toys as a child. It felt exotic compared to my Barbie dolls. Upon holding the long tube to my eye, I saw vibrant and intricate shapes. And to my discovery, I could turn the end of the tube to see an endless number of colorful patterns. The kaleidoscope is an optical instrument with multiple reflections from mirrors, glass pieces, colored beads, and today, can be made of any number of small objects to create various perspectives. To learn and read the history of the kaleidoscope, read here.

How can we use the kaleidoscope, not the telescope, to see various perspectives in disputes? Just as each kaleidoscope provides unique patterns, every person we encounter is unique with different familial experiences, beliefs, values and personality characteristics.

When we are in an interpersonal conflict, we tend to focus on one perspective usually our own very narrowly. We don’t turn the kaleidoscope to see a different angle to the story. We experience the other person in the conflict as the individual who wronged us in some way. The beauty of a kaleidoscope is the mirrors used to reflect simple elements into a complex arrangement. It is in the turning of the long tube that allows each of us to see a distinct perspective. In conflict conversations, the turning of the kaleidoscope means taking action, actively listening and asking questions to gain a new understanding. It is revealing, beautiful, and often leads to a deeper understanding of what makes the other person unique.

Learning how to turn the kaleidoscope changed my life and gave me the courage to take more risks. I wanted to see more beautiful things in people, and myself. I do have to remember to pick up the kaleidoscope in my interpersonal conflicts and turn it to see the hidden patterns. Have you done this lately?

If not, I invite you to pick up and turn your kaleidoscope for a new perspective.

Pattie Porter, LCSW

Conflict Management Expert

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Just Sleep On It – Insight on Challenging the Age-Old Wisdom, “Never go to bed angry!”

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The age-old wisdom that married couples imparted to my husband, Bernard and me before we got married was, “Never go to bed angry.”

I do not enjoy being in conflict with my husband; for that reason, every time a conflict has occurred between us throughout the nine years we’ve been together I usually try to get it resolved as quickly as possible. Another reason I tried to resolve it quickly is that I feared the consequences of going to sleep still fighting with my husband.

If we did go to bed mad what would happen? Would it automatically mean we were doomed to failure? I believe this fear is why I had always pushed for a resolution, sometimes before we were ready because illogically I thought if I fell asleep and Bernard and I were still fighting we wouldn’t make it.

Recently, Bernard and I got into a heated conflict. Without going into detail, I will say the fight escalated after I lost sight of my emotional triggers. After the battle had met its climax, Bernard did not want to talk. Bernard not wanting to speak moments after an argument is pretty standard; as mentioned, I usually push for a resolution and break his silence. However, this time was different. It was late in the evening and time for bed. I remember thinking to myself, ” Do we go to bed angry? What will come of our relationship? Will we be okay?”

I recognized that a time-out was necessary, recalling all the conflict resolution literature I have read over the years that says sometimes time-outs are fine; good even! I acknowledged that pushing for a resolution on this particular matter could make things worse. So for the first time in our relationship, we went to bed angry. The next morning, we didn’t speak either. I spent the next day researching how going to bed angry could affect your relationship, and I became even more panicked as I read more negative results. I then decided to pull myself together and gain insight from this experience rather than promote a prophecy that has no merit.

So for this post, I wanted to share my insight on what I learned from going to bed angry.

I was at fault in this argument, and I realized that every time in the past when I had pushed for a resolution, and I was to blame, I was minimizing my behavior. My husband was clearly upset with me and my actions, if I pushed him to forgive me, I recognized that I was reducing his hurt feelings to make my uncomfortableness with being in a fight go away. I did not like this realization about myself and immediately felt guilty for all the times in the past I had done this; therefore, this time, I didn’t push for a resolution. I apologized but then I backed off and let my husband make the call on when we could speak and resolve the issue.

Going to bed angry gives you time to calm down and gain perspective. I am aware this isn’t a ground-breaking revelation to most people but to me it was. I have a sharp tongue, I have been told this since I was little, and it has gotten me into trouble before. Therefore, calming down and shutting up helped me not to say anything I would later regret. It also allowed me to gain the perspective I needed so that when Bernard and I did talk I was able to articulate my points and feelings without a high level of emotion.

Lastly, going to bed angry does not automatically mean that your relationship will meet its demise. It is important that you take a break if needed when arguing with your spouse or significant other to gain clarity and de-escalate a conflict. If that means sleeping on it, then that is something you should do. It might make you feel better to know that no one has ever cited “we went to bed angry” on their divorce papers – I checked!

Have a Great Week,
Abigail R.C. McManus
Apprentice

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Lessons in Empathy –Tips on how to put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Clipart Illustration of Two Orange People On Blue Puzzle Pieces,When I was younger and in a conflict with a friend, I would always vent to my mom. I would often, as most of us do, blame the other person and make generalizations and assumptions about why my friend was acting, saying, and doing those things to me (always intentionally in my eyes). Once I would finish venting, my Mom would then take on the role of devil’s advocate. At the time, this drove me nuts because in my dramatic pre-teen/teen years, I just wanted her to take my side. I had no idea this little exercise she continuously did would end up benefiting me not only in my education but also in my life.

What is empathy and why is it important?

Merriam-Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” In other words, empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. In an article adapted from Bruna Martinuzzi’s book: The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow found on Mindtools.com he explains that empathy, “Allows us to create bonds of trust, it gives us insights into what others may be feeling or thinking; it helps us understand how or why others are reacting to situations, it sharpens our “people acumen” and it informs our decisions.” In a conflict, if you take the time to try and recognize where the other person is coming from, you can gain an alternative perspective.

How can you be more empathetic?

One step towards being more empathetic is to listen to the other person when they are speaking. Mike Robbins contributor to the HuffPost Healthy Living blog explains, “Asking people how they truly feel, what’s really going on in their world, AND listening to how they respond (without judgment) are some of the best things we can do to express our empathy for the people around us.” Often in conflict, we stop listening to one another because we are too absorbed in our thoughts and feelings or because we are preparing a response.

The next step suggested by Bruna Martinuzzi is, “Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and [have a] genuine curiosity about their lives. Ask them questions about their hobbies, their challenges, their families, their aspirations.” By taking the time to ask questions and be inquisitive about the other person’s life, you are getting to know them and showing that you care, which builds trust and rapport and makes it easier to step into their shoes if a conflict should arise.

The final step suggested by Reginald Adkins, a contributor on LifeHack.org, to being more empathetic is to “Assure you’re understanding. Ask clarifying questions and restate what you perceive the speaker to be saying.” In order for you to be empathetic, you must make sure that you comprehend the message the person is trying to convey. Sometimes it can be helpful to regurgitate back to the person what you heard. If what you heard and what they said are not matching up, allow them to clarify further. While doing this may seem tedious, it ensures that no miscommunication occurs and that you have a clear understanding of that person’s perspective, which then allows you to be more empathetic.

It is always in hindsight that we can see the lessons our parents were trying to teach us. I can remember a time in college when I was in a conflict and I automatically stopped and thought, where are they coming from? In that moment, I recognized what my Mom had been doing all those years; she had been teaching me to be empathic.

Abigail Clark

Graduate Student Intern,

University of Baltimore- Negotiation and Conflict Management Program

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