The Holidays: Is Avoiding Family Conflict Really Possible?

28 Dec

Segment 1: Perceptions of Reality.

Our guest on this edition of The Doug Noll Show is Roger Frame, President of Frameworks 4 Learning. Roger is an expert on resolving interpersonal conflict, defusing power struggles and preventing bullying. His book is called Don’t Carve the Turkey with a Chainsaw: Resolving Family Conflict. He comes from the psychotherapy perspective and thinks the single biggest cause of human conflict is differences of perspective. People view conflict as based on reality, when in fact it’s based on our perceptions of reality. Conflict is not something you can completely avoid (nor should we try to avoid it, as it usually brings people closer together once it is resolved). If we don’t have resistance, we cannot grow as human beings. The whole point of conflict is to alert us to the fact that there are things to which we need to pay attention.


Segment 2: Adopt a Curious Attitude.

In terms of holiday conflict, when relatives get together there are often repeated patterns that come up every year. It’s difficult for people to recognize these patterns, and the person who brings up the issue usually (unconsciously) has a vested interest in keeping it alive. So why would a reasonable, rational intelligent person do this? Adults play out the conflicts of their childhood and the dynamic stays the same. When you encounter an issue with a family member, ask the question, “I’m curious. What makes you want to keep bringing this up?” Having the presence of mind to ask a question like this takes practice and self-control. The most difficult thing is to stay present with yourself so that when someone pushes your buttons you can respond with compassion and clarity, even when you are angry. Instead of attacking back and reacting with anger, adopt a curious attitude.


Segment 3: Ignore the Words and Focus on the Emotion.

Listening is a powerful skill that needs to be taught. People don’t know how to listen or ask effective questions. Roger thinks we should ignore the words and focus on emotions. Repeat back the emotional experience of the person you’re speaking with at that moment. In doing that, you touch something deep and the brain starts to calm. In the brain, the emotional content goes to one neuropathway and the cognitive content goes to another neuropathway. When you recognize the emotion in a situation – and mirror it back – the emotional centers of the brain deescalate.


Segment 4: In Roger’s book he references many fly fishing analogies for conflict resolution. For example, kids bait their parents and know exactly what lure their parents will bite. As water warms up in a river, fish bite on different insects. Also, there are certain times of day when mom (or dad) is tired and kids know they can ask for and get what they want. Timing is everything. If you draw your fly rod back and start the forward movement too quickly, the fly will snap off. It’s the same with communication: if you interrupt someone too quickly, the conversation will snap off. Lastly, when casting in fly fishing, you must move backward before you go forward. When you are involved in conflict resolution, if you can pause and go backward a bit, it opens up the space to move forward. It creates a safe space for someone to be heard.


To listen to the entire interview:


Segment 1

Segment 2

Segment 3

Segment 4


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