Helping Nonprofit Leaders Transform Conflict

Leadership Coach and Mediator

Everything in our new rental is nice, shiny, and white. It is so brand new that I hardly dare sit on the couch, scared that my garden feet might stain the cover, even after I have washed them.

But the kitchen knife is too cool not to use. It screams at me “Pick me! Pick me to cut the onion!”

And so I do. It slices the onion as if it is thin air. No resistance at all. And so it does with the tip of my left middle finger.

Within a second I see blood running on the spic-and-span kitchen tiles like the Niagara falls. It takes almost an entire package of bandages to soak it up. I can’t use my finger for a week.

It would have been so much more practical if I had cut my left pinkie. As much as I love my pinkie, doing daily tasks such as brushing my teeth, making my food, and unpacking our boxes would not have been such a hassle if that had been the one that had a sliver of skin cut off.

But of course, that’s precisely the reason why I didn’t cut my left pinkie. The things we use the least, get harmed the least, precisely because we don’t use them so much.

And conversely, things that we use the most, get scratched, stained, and broken the most. Whether it is our middle finger, our favorite teacup, or our cherished fountain pen. 

Or our closest relationships, the people who are our go-to strategy to meet our interdependent needs.

Life is wonderful when they are available to meet our needs for support, acceptance, understanding, emotional safety, and trust. But it gets messy when they prioritize other commitments over connection with us. Then we easily end up with feelings of anger, sadness, or anxiety.

This is especially true when we are undifferentiated, a term David Schnarch, the author of Passionate Marriage, uses to describe a relationship where we either want to assimilate with the other person or try to keep the other person at arm’s length to prevent being swallowed up.

Either strategy is lose-lose.

He writes “Giving up your individuality to be together is as defeating in the long run as giving up your relationship to maintain your individuality. Either way, you end up being less of a person with less of a relationship.”

One way to get out of this bind is to accept that although they are our favorite strategy to meet our needs, we can find alternative ways to meet them.

But be careful! It’s important to understand the difference between strategies and needs. Otherwise what we think is a bandaid for our relationship, is actually a knife that pokes holes in the boat of our togetherness, dragging us down the Niagara falls of conflict.

If you want to learn more about how to prevent that, you can read my whitepaper “Nonviolent Communication in a Nutshell”. Download it here.

P.S. Read more about the Crucible Institute that David Schnarch established.

P.P.S. We will be at 615 East 48 Street, Austin, TX 78751 till September 1. My phone and email stay the same: 512-589-0482 |

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