As you can imagine, most people I see in counseling settings have a conflict with someone in their life that doesn’t seem to resolve. The problem comes up again and again. Change the scenario, but the dialogue remains the same. Someone shuts down, someone presses hard, someone brings up the past, someone changes the subject, someone seems to agree at first but then later reverses their position. You get the picture.
There are many reasons why we fall into this kind of pattern. But, one comes to mind as a common reason: We want to be heard and we don’t feel like we are being heard so we keep doing things in order to be heard (silence, many words, loud words, etc.). The end result is both parties feel unheard and generally unwilling to really “hear” the other for fear their concerns will be ignored.
One way I try to break the cycle is to draw 2 intersecting roads. In most conflict, we are going different directions and we want the other to come with us. And when we consider going with the other down their road, it feels as if our road (concerns, desires) will be left far behind.
In order to break the cycle we have to stay in the intersection, without demanding that we go down either road. The intersection means that both of our concerns and interests are being considered. We stay there to hear without leaving. We fight the anxiety that staying there means giving up. It doesn’t. The intersection is to be a safe place (okay, in real life hanging out in an intersection probably isn’t the smartest thing).
When conflicting parties agree to hang out in the intersection, I find that most of the anxiety and fears of rejection or neglect subside. And frequently, parties agree that the concerns of both are legitimate. And just maybe they can find another road that they both can travel in safety.
What word pictures do you find helpful when confronting persisting conflict?