Friday, January 23, 2015

Changing the Conversation by Dana Caspersen

Changing the Conversation: The 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution Conflict is something no one can avoid in a life. If one experiences a conflict at work or home, the stress may twist our natural personalities and lead us to abuse ourselves or others. I may have been more resilient in the past, but now I find conflict extremely distressing and find myself fleeing from it.

Caspersen makes the point early in this marvelous book that while conflict is inevitable, working through it rather than running from it provides an opportunity for a creative solution that may actually fulfill both parties and create a stronger, more trusting bond between the two.

Earlier this year, after suffering a debilitating long-running conflict in my family, I took an online course in Conflict Resolution with the publishing group Shambhala. It ran for several weeks, included audio, video, reading, and homework. It was extremely useful. Many of the ideas presented in that course are given here, in this wonderfully concise handbook. Just opening this book and seeing the format made me weak with relief. There are just a few critical points on each page, giving us space and time to think about what is being said.

Resolving conflict requires a certain amount of willingness to understand the other side, even if the other side can’t easily articulate their position. We have to be able to ask questions until we get to the real reason behind the conflict…what needs are felt but not fulfilled? Emotions may appear to cloud the issues, but in fact are clues to the issues. We need to feel our own emotion (like, for instance, anger) and then ask why?

STOP when you feel attacked, FEEL the hurt of that, and then DON’T ASSUME you know what the other person is thinking or feeling. ASK questions (of ourselves and others) until you get closer to the unmet needs on both sides that must be addressed. We all have the same basic needs, but not all our needs are prioritized the same way all the time. And we might differ in the ways we decide to meet those needs.

We need to LISTEN to the other and ask questions, perhaps reformulating and restating their point of view as a query until we both understand their underlying need or issue. We can share our own point of view, but not in anger. Caspersen points out that we have to be sick and tired of our own unhelpful habits (of reacting when provoked or angry) in order to try to change that part of the equation.

It takes practice. We won’t succeed every time. But we get better at it. That there is another way has been an immense relief. If we have been lucky, we’ve met someone who can withhold judgment and tease out the cause of the emotion behind conflict, and defuse the hot air surrounding parties in conflict. This book shows us how to do that.

Best yet, this book is good for beginners and those experienced in the practice. It is too easy to forget how to deal when conflict arises suddenly. Just flipping through this book sets me immediately at ease. It is so helpful. I don’t need to learn it all again. I just need reminding. Again and again.

Maybe the part I like best about learning about conflict is that our reactions can be changed. Our reactions are not immutable. We do not have to go through life feeling at the mercy of those who have stronger, more articulate, or more obstinate positions. We can effectively “deal with” or solve conflict in many cases, and come up with creative and constructive solutions, create lasting intimacy, and a willingness to engage and trust. Some people manage it. Why not us?

This book is a marvelous thing. It has examples of common conflicts and language used in families, talking with teens, in work situations, in political discussions. On the facing page it gives examples of a more constructive approach. What could be better than this? We all need this book. Even conflict facilitators need this book, as I found out from attendees of the Shambhala course, at least half of whom were, or wanted to be, paid facilitators.

In my case, the conflict has been defused. There are still trust issues, perhaps because of the length of the conflict, but the open warfare is past. The scarring makes one want to make sure it never happens again, which is why I will keep this book close.

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores


  1. sounds like a valuable guide. learning to deal with conflict is an important life skill.

    1. Oh yes, I think this is a keeper. I just adore the layout. There is something off-putting about picking up a book about conflict, but this one is mostly ideas, good ideas, and doesn't have too many words.