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When Folks Won't Agree, they need some options, try this one, help them to shift their paradigm.

Using a Mediation lens this time, I have noticed that many people retreat into an EITHER... OR... position like "either you agree with my view point, or you are just so obviously wrong that there is no point in even continuing this conversation". These positions tend to polarize those involved in the conversation. However, if we can offer them a different paradigm to operate from, it may open up the possibilities for an actual dialogue to occur, rather than yet another ritual arguement that leads exactly where it did the last time they had the same exact conversation. This strategy usually leads to ending the conversation with no way to re-start again without someone having to capitulate. By offering them this different paradigm, the BOTH.. AND... option, it can create some needed space for both parties to be able to have their own perspective, differing from the others', without requiring either party to surrender, often leading to either mutual dissengage or someone going on the attack.


Having negotiated their willingness to shift their paradigm, the next step they would need to take is use some active listening skills to assist them each to get their views across clearly to the other, and ensure they have also accurately heard and understood the others' views as well as clearly stating their own. While this exercise is a fairly straight forward task in itself, it can be a difficult sell to those accustomed to operating in chaos of the Either... Or... paradigm. So I will leave that to you to decide how to approach it and engage them in using these active listening skills in their situation.


This space created by using this alternative paradigm, followed by using these active listening skills can make it possible for any two people having different views about something important to them, especially opposing views, to be able to have respectful conversations or discussions based on an actual mutual understanding of each others viewpoints. This would shift their actual dynamic from "one of us has to be wrong here, and it will not be me" to actually hearing what the others' perspective is and how they arrived at that view. That would create the possible option that there can be more than one valid way to view things.


This either... or... dynamic so often presents itself in relationship counselling as a seemingly immoveable barrier between the parties. That effectively prevents a way to even begin any therapeutic process unless we are persuaded take one persons side against the other.


Since I do a lot of couples work, I am constantly faced with clients committed to this Either... Or...' operating systems. I have noticed just how very important it has been, when offering them this new option of shifting their very familiar Either... Or... paradigm to the more inclusive Both... And... option, that it is presented to both of them at the same time. It is also crucial that we have not succumb to their pressures to take sides in order for this option to be seen as credible.


They frequently require a lot of help staying out of their old either... or... habits while they learn how to use this new approach. Negotiating both slowing down their automatic communication rituals, and then a willingness to reduce their expectations by re-prioritzing the issues to be addressed. This time based on an 'urgency in the room at the time' vantage point, instead of the often overwhelming list of all of the things about which they can not discuss without fighting.


When successful in completing these 4 sequential tasks of: 1/ Negotiating a shifting of their paradigm to Both... And...; 2/ Getting them to learn and use active listening skills with each other; 3/ Slowing down their usual communication rituals; 4/ Reducing expectations from the long list of things they can not discuss to the urgencies in the room at the moment, It becomes possible to proceed with helping them. Because they each now may feel listened to and accurately understood by the other, the 'power-over' dynamic can be replaced by an 'interest-in both' dynamic which offers some degree of new space to consider mutual interests in-common rather than their old positions. This is the space we need to help them to move out of their communication deadlock and find some way forward to their mutual interests.


I do realize what a complex situation this shifting paradigms process can require to implement. Ironically, because the stakes can be so very high for a couple crippled by this kind of dynamic, that they are often desperate, may actually help provide some mutual motivation to try something different, as long as neither party had to surrender their perspective. It is important for us to understand that this option does not ask them to give anything up, what it does ask them to make room for the possibility that there can also be other views that also make sense if you hear out their reasoning and perspective. For example, when it is 2:40 pm, it is also 20 minutes to 3 pm. We are adding another perspective to the discussion, not subtracting someone from it. It is clear to me that this work is a very demanding process for everyone involved, including us as therapists, and it can work and help people to find a way through a very difficult situation.


I will leave you all now with how you take it from here. I hope these observations were useful to you in some way and I'd love to hear any feedback. I have a heavy teaching load coming up this fall so my next Blogg will be on January 1st, 2021. I hope you will dropin again then, I'll be considering 'So who is actually doing the work here?' I wish you all a Seasons Greeetings and the hope you have a satisfying holiday and that we all are succesful in meeting the Covid challenges more effectively. Ciao, David

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