My husband gave me a card on Sunday afternoon after we resolved a fight. It read: Let\'s Fight Till Six, and Then Have Dinner.
Our fight the night before was over popcorn. For real, popcorn.
He Said: She Said
He said: The popcorn is about to burn!
She said, while next to the microwave: I can smell the popcorn and it’s not about to burn.
He said: There’s hardly any pops left.
She said, turning off the microwave: I know how to cook popcorn.
He said: You burn popcorn.
She said: I never burn popcorn!
He said: You do, too.
She said some not-so-nice-things as she handed him the bag of popcorn.
At the end of the night, he said: Let’s forget the whole popcorn thing. She said: Yeah, because you have Popcorn Anxiety Disorder. He said some not-so-nice things in response.
Might you also be experiencing equally absurd disagreements these days, whether personally or professionally?
Maybe it feels like you've fallen down the rabbit hole to the Mad Tea Part? Overall, you wonder: Where are we? How'd we get there? And how the hell do we get out?
Conflict is up these days.
And it can feel serious, whether it’s about popcorn, an abrupt e-mail, an off-handed comment in a team meeting - or maybe it's about the perception of accumulated wrongs simmering beneath the surface.
It gets a hold of you and won't let you. Like when I woke up Sunday morning STILL miffed about the popcorn. Good lord, I thought, if a partnership can’t resolve their issues around popcorn, there’s trouble ahead.
But be honest, doesn't the conflict with your colleagues, manager or direct reports sometimes feel as absurd as a popcorn fight?
Assertive Communication is our best chance at being heard and understood in conflict, and it's an essential EQ skill that most of us were not taught as kids. It\'s also a lifelong practice. Here\'s a good article from the Mayo Clinic Being Assertive: Reduce Stress.
The key in Assertive Communication is owning our feelings, which then informs us what we need to do next and avoids the blame game. Shifting from You-statements to I-Statements, as described by Tony Robbins in Changing Your Words Will Change Your Relationship makes all the difference:
“You-statements…are phrases that begin with the pronoun "you” and imply that the listener is responsible for something. They show no ownership of emotions, but rather blame, accuse and assume the receiver. This type of statement is more likely to make your partner feel defensive and resentful, and he or she will be less likely to want to make peace.
An I-statement, on the other hand, forces us to take responsibility for what we are thinking and feeling and prevents us from blaming our partners. When using “I-statements,” we can still be assertive, but find a less hostile, more compassionate way to communicate. Tone of voice – vocal inflection, volume and pitch – is an important piece of the communication puzzle that we often forget about. I-feel statements help prevent miscommunication that can happen when one partner takes an accusatory tone of voice."
So my blaming You-Statement in the popcorn fight might have been: You talk to me like I am a child and a maid. (Good one, yes?)
My I-statement might have been: When you told me to watch the popcorn and disagreed that I am capable of cooking it without burning it, I felt frustrated and invisible. But, OMG, it\'s popcorn!
Then I remembered a technique I use effectively with team members, business partners, board members, and anyone who's stuck in conflict.
The full technique goes like this and the ground rules are no You-Statements and no interrupting.
- Say 3 things you appreciate about the other person.
- State your part in the problem.
- Say one thing you will do to fix the problem. You have 5 minutes.
- Person Two: Repeat the process above.
- Discussion: Each person has 3 minutes to ask questions or respond without being interrupted.
It is a powerful technique and it can move mountains when facilitated safety. However, again, my problem was popcorn.
So I initiated (begrudgingly at first) the first three steps without expectation from him. I shared three things I appreciated about him and identified ONE specific and timely request (tone of voice). I shared that he creates a beautiful sense of order in our home. Me, well, not so much. I’m onto the next thing before the last thing is completely finished. I leave puddles.
So I told him all this.
Turns out my puddles were really getting to him and were perceived as not being thoughtful. I got it, and on his end, he got the tone thing.
Fight Till Six, and Then Break Bread
Conflicts are unavoidable and are actually a sign of healthy growth. Otherwise, we get stuck in Group Think. In terms of psychological safety, it’s part of Challenger Safety where we challenge the status quo for better outcomes and innovation.
So here's what I wish for you, and all of us:
Not only the tools to navigate conflict, but the trust and safety to know that we can fight before six, and then sit down and break bread together.
Here's to sustenance in all its forms.