As we consider communication in conflict, we need to reflect on the beliefs / values / behaviours which underlie our understanding of communication in conflict.
This means understanding that our most basic beliefs about conflict come from our family of origin. How the adults around us raised conflict, addressed conflict, and resolved conflict became the most basic lessons we absorbed as a child.
Some people learn good lessons from their families of origin, they learn to address conflict constructively, to speak assertively, to listen attentively and to problem solve collaboratively. However, this is not everyone. Many people learn poor lessons as a child, they may learn that conflict is to be avoided and any resulting feelings suppressed. They may learn that conflict is a battle and one party needs to back down to accommodate the more dominant party. They may never see their parents make up after an argument.
When we are under stress, these foundational behaviours are likely to surface. We may abandon the lessons we have learnt about effective communication and cling to the earliest lessons we have. This is the challenge.
The first step is to reflect on what lessons we learnt as a child. Understanding how your family dealt with communication in conflict and deciding if these lessons are helpful is a truly worthwhile exercise. Some questions to consider:
Answering these questions will help you to understand how you behave in conflict. You may have since learnt more constructive skills, but many of our reactions to conflict as adults have their origins in our childhood.
Next week, what other factors influence our communication in conflict?
What was that? How often have we tried to say something and found that our message was not received? In a mediation recently, a party said to me, "But I am good at communicating, he just doesn't understand me!". It can feel like that, we send out a message that we feel is clear in content and intent. In conflict situations or difficult conversations, frequently these messages are either not received, or from our perspective are misinterpreted.
Communication is literally a two-way street. We need to send a message, but the recipient is just as important. What do they understand the message to be? Maybe they perceive a different substantive message, or they interpret a specific emotional content. In conflict, we need to pay attention to both ends of the message sending / receiving.
This series is going to focus on how to approach difficult conversations and how we can improve our communication to make sure that we give our messages the best chance to be heard, and when receiving messages we apply our best tools to understand them.
And so my Miss Marple series draws to a close. It is with some sadness that I close this series, as it has been massively enjoyable reminding myself of all the stories. Although I am a bigger fan of the movies / serialisations than the books, it is the character of Miss Marple who retains my interest. Why? Why should an oft described "little old lady" be a character of fascination for decades?
From my perspective, she intrigues us because of her many excellent qualities:
How is any of this relevant to conflict? Ah, that is easy.
There will definitely be more detective series going forward, so watch later in the year for a little Conan Doyle, Allingham, Sayers, Marsh, Sansom, They, Thomas, Buchan...to come.
You gave too much rein to your imagination. Imagination is a good servant, and a bad master. The simplest explanation is always the most likely.
In family conflict, parties often have wild imaginations. The breach of trust which leads to the end of the relationship throws all certainties into doubt. Even if there has been a long history, the parties can feel as if they no longer recognise each other. This is also typically when communication breaks down. Into this vacuum, imagination pours fears, interpretations and dire prophecies.
Some of these beliefs are related to the changes in behaviour/actions/choices of each party as the relationship disintegrates. However, many of them spring from allowing our imaginations to run wild. As Agatha Christie, notes imaginations are a bad master. If there is a concern, much better to raise constructively. Through mediation, we can work to create a new paradigm for communication and a world without assumptions.
In "A Murder is Announced", Miss Marple wrestles with an improbable crime. The local paper in Chipping Cleghorn includes a notice that a murder will take place at a date and time specified in the home of Miss Letitia Blacklock. At the appointed time, a murder does indeed occur. Miss Marple must reconstruct the tangled web which led the victim to the house and his demise.
The premise is challenging, the time and place of the murder is announced so why would anyone in their right mind go there? It is a situation which seems to have absolute certainty and yet the key fact, the intended victim is unknown.
At the moment, we are all living with a level of uncertainty which extends to our health, our families and friends, and our finances. I referred a few weeks ago to the guidance provided by the AFCC for co-parenting during COVID-19. This is an attempt to give guidelines to parent at a time when nothing is certain. The basic facts of COVID-19 are becoming clear, but so much is unknown. If we had Miss Marple stationed in every home, it would be easier to navigate. In the absence of Miss Marple what can parents do?
The AFCC recommends that co-parents be creative, understanding and generous. Without doubt, these guidelines are needed in the current situation when it is possible that parents will have different views on what is appropriate for children during these times. In addition to the AFCC guidelines, I would also suggest:
Just in time for Easter, another colouring page. I hope you have some time over Easter to rest and relax. Hopefully there are some Easter eggs in there as well. If you would like to download the colouring page please click on the file download below. Happy Easter
Agatha Christie, borrowed from Omar Khayyam for the title, The Moving Finger. In his famous Rubiayat, Khayyam ponders the truth that time moves on and we cannot call it back or erase what has happened (Verse 51). In her book, Christie explores the impact of a poison pen writer in a small village. Needless to say the letters are not the only subject matter of Miss Marple's investigation. In fact, the letters are a diversion to attract attention away from the real crimes. Miss Marple sees beyond the words.
In conflict, and in the heat of anger, words can be weapons. We have all done it. The red mist descends and before we realise it, we have said something hurtful and cruel. We have made a threat, the closer to a real fear the better. If we are lucky then these words are forgiven or forgotten and our relationship continues. However, if we are in an ongoing conflict or in a separation then these words can come back to haunt us.
I can recall many mediations where the angry words spoken by one party are used to justify the fears or positions of the other party. It may have taken a microsecond for the words to come out of our mouths, but the tail is long.
The reality is that we are all capable of saying terrible things when we are angry. As humans we need to acknowledge that whilst words are important, we are all capable of speaking without thinking.
As Miss Marple and Omar Khayyam know we cannot go back in time to change them, we can only change things going forward. We cannot ask people to trust us, we can only show them through our actions that trust can be rebuilt.
Here is another colouring page for the weekend. With all that is going on finding flow is key to keeping perspective. There are few easier ways of re-establishing balance for me than drawing. It may be time to give it a go...
You can download the colouring page from the below link.
The Mirror Crack’d has been filmed several times, with Angela Lansbury, Julia McKenzie and Joan Hickson playing Miss Marple. The story involves both high glamour and high tragedy. The movie star Marina Gregg (played by Elizabeth Taylor, Claire Bloom and Lindsay Duncan) has come to the English countryside trailing stardust. A series of murders occurs and the police believe that Ms Gregg is the intended victim given her notoriety. In due course, Miss Marple uncovers the tragic origins of the murders which can be found in the seemingly insignificant yet deeply consequential actions of the first victim. In the same way, small decisions now can have massive ramifications in future.
At present, many separated and separating parents are struggling to manage their interactions and co-parenting, with the added complexity of Covid-19. On one level there are practical concerns, if there is no school, how will children be cared for during the day? For schools which have gone online, how do parents manage their learning? With lockdowns in place in some countries, where should children live? How can access be managed? How can parents communicate to make arrangements?
On a more structural level, some families are re-evaluating everything. Perhaps one parent has decided that relocation to their home country is the only option, for health or educational reasons. Perhaps one or both parents have lost their jobs and can no longer manage the financial arrangements. Perhaps both parents are seeking to relocate with the children to difference countries.
For all of these questions, large and small, the interactions of the separating parents will impact the children long after the separation has occurred, and long after any court orders are put in place. In order to be able to address these questions, parents need to be able to move away from the past and towards the future, even though it is no longer shared.
This requires clarity of purpose and emotional strength. To allow of a future where conflict has ended and life has transitioned requires each parent to let go of the hurt / blame of the past and to move forward. This is easier said than done. Each person will experience letting go in their own way. Sadly for some people this may never happen. In addition, to be able to see reality as opposed to a desired for or feared future requires a positive choice.
As someone who has lived with heartache, Miss Marple knows that letting go of the past is a prerequisite for being able to move on with life. She comments of one character that “she couldn’t let go of the past and she could never see the future as it really was, only as she imagined it to be”. Letting go of the past and the imagined future, enables parents and children to realise their future.