No hands? Yeah. I didn’t think so. Me either!
Nobody “enjoys” feeling stressed, attacked, unheard, or unappreciated.
Yet squabbling and fighting happens all the time, in small ways and big ways, too.
From couples bickering in the grocery store, to nations waging war against one another, “conflict” has always been part of the human experience.
But if nobody “enjoys” fighting, why do we do it so often?
One man, the late Marshall Rosenberg, a communication expert and author who started the “non-violent communication” movement, believes that conflicts arise when one (or both) people feel stressed because one (or more) of their emotional needs are not being met.
Think about the last time you felt upset with someone. Like… that telemarketer who kept pitching unwanted offerings to you, interrupting your dinnertime, even though you already said, “No thank you.” Or the babysitter who showed up late (again). Or that colleague who bungled up a project, leaving you to clean up the mess.
In each situation, you felt upset because one of your emotional needs was not being met. Like… your need for peace and quiet. Your need for organization and order. Your need for a weekend without any unexpected work heaped onto your plate. Or maybe, on a deeper level, your need to feel seen, heard, and respected not ignored.
When you feel upset, before you do or say anything that you might later regret—Marshall encourages you to pause and ask yourself, “What emotional need is going unmet right now? How could I express that need and hopefully get it met?”
These are great questions because they can help us to investigate stressful situations with curiosity, rather than trying to resolve conflict from a “combative” or “reactive” place, which obviously doesn’t work.
Here is a script based on Marshall’s non-violent communication principles:
When I [see / hear / have / think about / find out that] ________, I feel ________.
What I need is ________.
Would you be willing to ________?
Here’s an example of how you could take that script and apply it to a real-life situation:
When I see that the sink is overflowing with dirty pots and pans, I feel frustrated because I’m very hungry and I was looking forward to cooking a nice meal for us tonight. But now it’s going to be more difficult and take longer because all the items that I need are dirty.
What I need is a bit more support around the house, especially when I have a long, 12-hour workday, like today. It would feel great if we divided up chores more equally and I’d love for us to come up with a new plan together.
Would you be willing to handle those dishes while I take a quick shower? Then I’ll get started on dinner. Thank you.
In this example, you’re not saying, “YOU never do any housework! YOU are so lazy and selfish!” Instead, you’re describing how you feel and how your needs could be met (using “I…” phrases), without lashing out angrily and making it somebody’s “fault.”
By following this script, or something similar, you can express your feelings, express your needs, and even propose a potential solution to whatever issue is bothering you without placing “blame” or “criticism” on anyone’s shoulders. This can open the doorway to a productive conversation instead of a screaming match (or the equally unpleasant “silent treatment.”)
As lifelong conflict hater and conflict avoider, this is definitely something that I am still actively “learning.”
Is there some kind of conflict in your life (something new or something that’s been going on for years) that you could approach in a new way?
Do some work on your own to identify which of your emotional needs are going unmet. Write out a script for yourself. Then practice saying it aloud a few times to see if you can find a calm, non-defensive tone. Then… try it out!
Wishing you a very swift and healthy resolution…
~ Dr. Sue