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Mediating conflict with empathy, 1

Image courtesy to Creative CommonsWe’re in Hoppin House, Maya, Kiran, Georgia and I. We have a blast. We just played in the foam pit, and now I’m taking a break. I sit at the table, enjoying my tea, when Maya comes up to me. Her face is red, she seems agitated. “Elly, this kid (pointing at a boy on a slide) just told me ‘fuck off’, and you have to do something about it. You have to talk to the mom (pointing at a group of adults a table away). He has to apologize… I’m not kidding, he said that, really!” Georgia fiercely shakes her head. “I heard him say that too!”

I see how upset she is, and how important it is for her to receive respect. I want to honor her feelings and needs. And I am not looking forward to walk up to this table with six adults “Hey, your kid said “f… off”, and he needs to apologize.” Some of them are broad-shouldered and tattooed, and I don’t know what their communication style is. I’m not sure if my needs for safety and acceptance are gonna be met.

“Maya, I see how upset you are and I get that you want to be able to play in a way that brings respect and safety. I want that for you too. I’m gonna sit for five minutes and think about how I can talk to the parents, so that we create friendship, instead of more conflict. You can continue to play in the meantime.” Maya seems okay with that, and runs off.

I breath in and out. I don’t want to talk with the parents at all. I don’t like conflict, and I rather walk away from it. Especially when I am by myself, and they are with six.

Yet, at the same time I want to support Maya’s needs for respect and safety. I also want to show her that she matters enough to take action and overcome my fear of conflict. Even if that feels uncomfortable. And I want to figure out a way that supports the needs of the parents and the kid, maybe for respect, safety, and acceptance, just like us.

(This post is a little experiment: I split it up in two parts: one today, and the other tomorrow. Read more tomorrow!)


Want help to address conflict in a way that creates connection? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to work with you on that.

Conflicts are opportunities to learn

footstep“My marriage sucks.” She looks at me with tears in her eyes. “I give it a 2. I’m ready to leave. I’m sick and tired of the bickering and squabbling. I want peace and love and joy. Just a friendly face in the morning, someone who greets me with a smile ‘Good morning, my love, what a delight to see you today.’”

Tears roll down her face. She feels lonely, sad and hopeless.

She started her marriage with such excitement. A match made in heaven. She thought this time it would be a ten, or at least a nine, and for certain a consistent eight. Now she is ready to give up.

We sit together in silence.

I see her sadness and respect her pain.

Taking one little step at a time

“You know what?”, she says, with a sudden twinkle in her eyes. “I could see it differently. I could strive for a 2½, instead of being frustrated it is not a 10. Just a little improvement. One thing that works better today than yesterday. Just one little step, and then stabilize it. And then a next little step. And stabilize it. And then a next little step. Till I am where I want to be.”

Conflicts are opportunities for better understanding

She seems relieved. “I could see our conflicts as learning opportunities. ‘Oh, we bumped into each other. Hum. Maybe he needs help to make his life more wonderful. Maybe he has a unique request for me, something I could never have guessed, unless we bumped into each other. Maybe if I listen, instead of demanding that he asks differently, we will get somewhere.’ Hum.”

She ponders.

“You know what? I have actually been telling myself that what he wants is not valid. That he should not want the dishes to be put away, that that is a ridiculous thing to want. That the dishes are fine in the sink.”

Another silence.

“Isn’t that strange? I would never do that with my plants. I would never tell my bougainvillea ‘Don’t be a sissy wanting less water. Don’t demand more nourishment. Don’t complain you don’t get enough sunlight. The other plants don’t do that! They do fine in the shade, soaking in water, in barren soil. Just grow up and bloom!’ I don’t do that with anyone. But I do it with him. As if I am the judge of what is reasonable and unreasonable to ask.”

Making life more wonderful

She straightens her back. “I’m gonna see all our conflicts as opportunities to learn a little bit more about this unique man. As a privilege to understand more about this unique manifestation of life. And then try to accommodate that little request. Just one request. And then another.”

She gets up and empties the dish rack. I can tell her marriage is already at an 8.


You want help to see your conflicts as learning opportunities? Contact me 512-589-0482. I would be honored to help.