Conflict Resolution

Conflict Resolution

(David Burns, M.D.)


Basic Concepts:

1.      We are far more responsible for our interpersonal relationship problems than we realize.

2.      There is not only the tendency to see our interpersonal relationship problems as coming from outside, but also a denial when we are confronted with the fact that we are to blame for them.

3.      We have much more power to resolve our interpersonal relationship problems than we realize.

4.      This power comes from the realization that we are not just helpless victims, that our negative behaviors trigger the other person’s negative behaviors.

5.      We can change the relationship problems by changing our negative behaviors.


How to Change Our Negative Behaviors:

Characteristics of good communication: 

1.      You express your feelings openly. 

2.      You acknowledge the other person’s feelings.

3.      Your attitude is respectful and caring.


Characteristics of bad communication: 

1.      Truth—you argue that you’re “right” and the other person is “wrong.”

2.      Blame—you insist the problem is the other person’s fault.

3.      Defensiveness—you argue and refuse to admit any imperfection.

4.      Martyrdom—you claim you’re an innocent victim.

5.      Put-down—you imply the other person is a loser.

6.      Sarcasm—your tone of voice is belittling and patronizing.

7.      Counterattack—you respond to criticism with criticism.

8.      Scapegoating—you imply that the other person is defective or has “a problem.”

9.      Diversion—you change the subject or list past grievances.

10.    Self-blame—you act as if you’re awful and terrible.

11.    Hopelessness—you claim you’ve tried everything and nothing works.

12.    Demandingness—you complain that people are not the way you expect them to be.

13.    Denial—you say you don’t feel angry, sad, or upset when you do.

14.    Helping—instead of listening, you give advice or try to “help” the other person.

15.    Problem-solving—you try to solve the problem and ignore feelings.

16.    Mind-reading—you expect your partner to know what you want and how you feel.

17.    Passive-aggression—you say nothing, pout, or slam doors.


 The Five Secrets of Effective Communication:

Listening Skills:

1.      The Disarming Technique:  You find some truth in what the other person is saying, even if it seems totally unreasonable or unfair.


2.      Empathy:  You put yourself in the other person’s shoes and try to see the world through his or her eyes:

Thought empathy:  You paraphrase the other person’s words.

Feeling empathy:  You acknowledge how he or she is probably feeling.


3.      Inquiry:  You ask gentle, probing questions to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.


Self-Expression Skills:

4.      “I feel” Statements:  You describe the event and tell the other person how you feel about it.

5.      Stroking:  You find something genuinely positive to say to the other person, even in the heat of battle.  You convey an attitude of respect, even though you may feel very angry with the other person.


How to Revise Your Communication Style:

1.      Write down exactly what the other person said.  Be brief.

2.      Write down exactly what you said next.  Be brief.

3.      Was your response an example of good or bad communication?  Why?  Will your response make the problem better or worse?  Why?

4.      Substitute a more effective response using the “Five Secrets of Effective Communication”.  If your revised response is still ineffective, try again.