Under construction


Some minor but symbolically significant changes are underway here at Ye Olde Blog. I’m excited for a reveal … soon(ish).

Today’s to-do list looks like this (as scribbled into my notebook): flu shot; Two Women; email replies; “FREE” [the word on which I meditated this morning] — what should I do re job???; take kids to Clay and Glass Gallery to see Beaver; blog; sibs convo?

So far, I’ve done almost none of these things. Email replies, check. Laundry (not on list), check. Now I’ve skipped over a number of items in order to blog.

I wanted to write about a very specific subject: practical communication tips for managing conflict. Not necessarily solving or resolving conflict, but finding ways to keep working with people with whom you have disagreements, which may be irreconcilable. (These tips are taken from a recent episode of the podcast “Hidden Brain.”) The technique is called “Conversational receptiveness,” wherein you use words and phrases to demonstrate to your counterpart that you’re engaged, listening, and curious about their point of view. I love this. As I listened to the podcast, patting myself on the back, I thought, maybe I’m someone who doesn’t mind conflict; after all, as a writer I have to be comfortable with discomfort in order to stick with my work. But as it turns out, there are actually many conflicts that many of us find quite agreeable and even fun — like debating ideas, or cheering for different sports teams. We can agree to disagree. The place where I get stuck (where we pretty much all do) is when a disagreement hinges on a belief — when we want the other person to believe what we believe, and to say so. This belief could be about a moral position, or an interpretation of a shared experience, or the memory of something that happened long ago. If you’re like me, you can think of plenty of occasions when this kind of core disagreement led to heart-ache (or at the very least to late-night rumination, running versions of conversations over and over, arguing points in your head, or fantasizing about the other person coming around to your point of view, and saying: you know what, Carrie, you were absolutely right!). Sigh. Truth is, I’ve done a lot of mindfulness training on this very stuff. Maybe I’m not a conflict-resolution genius after all!


Okay. So is there a way to be heard, when in serious disagreement with someone else? Good news (according to this podcast): The answer is yes, at least some of the time. The secret sauce may sound counterintuitive (but makes so much sense!): to be heard, you have to hear.

We love feeling heard. We love being heard. Dr. Julia Minson, the expert being interviewed, recommends a conversational strategy called: HEAR. (It’s an acronym.) Conversational receptiveness moves us away from “naive realism,” which is the assumption that we’re all experiencing things in the same way. (This is actually the basis of most of my fiction — a narrative’s conflict and interest and humour and tragedy, to my mind, comes about because no one experiences any situation in the same way. No wonder this all resonated so deeply — it’s my recurring theme.)

Here are Dr. Minson’s tips on how to HEAR better, and have better conversations (saving for later, in hopes that I shall put them to use).

H – Hedge. Respond with phrases that include words like perhaps … sometimes … maybe

E – Emphasize agreement. Name a common cause or common goal, as in, we both think … or we both hope …

A – Acknowledge. Spend some of your airtime restating your counterpart’s argument. It sounds like you’re saying …

R – Reframe to the positive. Instead of saying, I hate not being heard, you could say, I love when someone takes time to really listen to me.


The other key to better conversations is to ask questions rather than make statements. This just plain makes sense. Questions open space. Statements put up walls. Oh boy is this a tough one for me. Just ask my kids. I’m overflowing with unsolicited advice! It’s probably all brilliant, right? It spills from me in these monologic torrents that are ultimately kind of meaningless, and ineffectual. So I’m working on it. What a difference it can make to ask a question that’s open-ended, that doesn’t have my answer waiting on the other side; not a leading question, but a question that expresses curiosity, interest, genuine wondering.

And this next bit was not in the podcast, but all of the above fits into my theory about CONTROL, and the problems it causes. In my own life, in my own character, I see that my desire to control can be ruinous to relationships (and to my own mental health). I can hardly think of a time when my impulse to control a situation, or a person, or a behaviour, or an experience led to a positive outcome. When I release my impulse to control, I’m inevitably more content, more accepting of situations that truly are not under my control, and, most importantly, I give the message to those around me that I trust them, and that they are trustworthy.

And when you send a message to the people around you that you value and trust them, when people feel heard, when people are heard, when you are listening and hearing those around you, you become someone who is also more trustworthy, who others will come to when they have hard things to talk about, and who, in turn, will be heard and listened to, too. That is my hope and my goal, as a parent, and as a friend, and as a writer. I am a work-in-progress! I’m under construction!

Do any of these tips resonate for you?

xo, Carrie

when things fall apart
Turning the page

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