Example: How We Make Up Stories
Fred knew he would have an especially long meeting at work. He told Marsha he would call her before she went to bed, but his meeting ran so long that it slipped his mind. Marsha was furious. She spent most of the night alone and she was really looking forward to talking to Fred. She made up a story that he had forgotten about her, which made her feel unimportant.
So the next day Marsha says to Fred, “Why didn’t you call me last night before you went to bed? You don’t care about me!”
The problem with statements like this is that the Fred gets defensive…because he DOES actually care. Fred may think Marsha is being inconsiderate, irrational or maybe she is just bored and trying to shake things up. Fred might feel hurt because Marsha just wrote off all the things he does to show her he does care.
What is a Clearing?
Accusing people of things is not a good way to manage conflict. You either heat things up, or turn someone off by doing so. What should we do instead? A few years ago I learned a technique that I’ve seen many people teach called a “clearing”.
It goes like this:
- State the facts and the facts only.
- State the feelings and only the feelings.
- State the story that you made up about what happened. It’s called a story because there is usually NOT evidence that it is true.
- State what you would prefer to happen in the future.
It looks like this: (Marsha talking)
- Facts: Last night, I knew you would be at work late. Earlier in the day, you said you would call me around 8:00pm. You didn’t call me all night or this morning.
- Feelings: I felt sad and anxious. I also felt angry.
- The story I make up is that you don’t care about me. That other things were more important, that I love you more than you love me. The story I make up is that you forgot about me.
- In the future, I would really like you to follow through with your commitment. At the very least, please text me if you know you can’t call.
Why This Method of Conflict Management Works
Managing conflicts like this helps in several ways. First of all, there is nothing accusatory about it. Rather than saying “You don’t care,” Marsha simply says that she made up a story about Fred’s behavior.
It’s so easy for me to misinterpret someone’s behavior If I meet a new girl and she is not excited about my presence immediately, I assume she doesn’t like me. The problem with this is there there are a bijillion things that could be going on. She could be distracted tired, having relationship problems, PMS’ing, or maybe she just had botox. It’s not fair to make a judgment about anyone, because I really have no idea what is going on with them.
Marsha knew Fred was going to be late, but she didn’t know that Fred didn’t sleep much the night before. Fred stayed up late last night working on a hand-made Valentines gift for Marsha. Then at work, one of his employees made a mistake and Fred might have to let him go. Fred was really looking forward to calling Marsha, but his phone died before his late night meeting and he didn’t have time to charge it. He was really disappointed. He went to bed late and frustrated, knowing Marsha was asleep by the time he got home.
Marsha’s perspective: I sat home bored all night waiting for you. I missed you. You didn’t call. You don’t care. My pity pot is so warm and cozy.
Fred’s perspective: I’ve been thinking about Marsha all day, and can’t wait until Valentines Day. I had a bad day and really wanted to talk to her but couldn’t. Now, I’m finally talking to her and she is being a bitch and telling me I don’t care? Lame sauce.
BOOM. Yeah. That’s how it goes for me sometimes too.
So, try doing a clearing next time. Separate the facts, your feelings and the stories you make up. Then, state your “wants” or, what you want to happen next time. Wants are not obligations or orders for Fred; its just Marsha being clear about what might help. And by the way, Fred has the option to say, “I’m sorry, I can’t do that,” and that has to be ok. But if you can keep being clear, honest, and SANE, I promise you’ll make progress and the conflicts will get better.
It works for me anyway :o)