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← The beauty of conflict | Clair Canfield | TEDxUSU

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Showing Revision 3 created 12/20/2016 by Xinyi He.

  1. (music and applause)
  2. I've heard it described as a volcano
    that's about to erupt.
  3. A hurricane.
  4. Like slow-dancing barefoot
    on broken shards of glass.
  5. Like trying to hold back
    the ocean with a broom.
  6. War.
  7. The plague.
  8. Like being drawn and quartered.
  9. These are just a few examples
    of thousands of metaphors I've collected
  10. about conflict.
  11. What's conflict like for you?
  12. Your metaphor matters
  13. because it often reflects how you
    think and feel about conflict.
  14. So it makes sense that if you think
    conflict is the plague,
  15. you'd probably want to avoid that,
  16. and avoid everybody else that
    has it too.
  17. If it's like trying to hold back
    the ocean with a broom,
  18. I would imagine that feels frustrating
    and futile.
  19. So what do you do when the waves
    just keep coming?
  20. Because conflict washes ashore in all
    of our relationships;
  21. at home, at work, in our neighborhoods.
  22. And you've probably already been given
    advice on how you should deal with it.
  23. "Communicate."
  24. But sometimes talking about it
    seems to make it worse.
  25. "Don't go to bed angry."
  26. So you stay awake, and now
    you're angry and tired.
  27. (laughter)
  28. Or,
    "You just have to learn to compromise."
  29. But if your compromise has ever felt like,
  30. "You don't get what you want,
    I don't get what I want,
  31. but at least together
    we're mutually miserable."
  32. (laughter)
  33. Now I'm sure all of this advice
    is well-intentioned,
  34. but it treats conflict
    as if it's a problem.
  35. What if conflict isn't a problem?
  36. What if it's a solution?
  37. What if it's not negative,
    but full of beauty?
  38. After 15 years of studying, researching,
    teaching, and training in conflict,
  39. I've learned to see it differently.
  40. I've been able to see the power
    it has to transform -
  41. to transform us, our relationships,
    and the world around us.
  42. It can be difficult, though,
    to create that change.
  43. And it means we have to start
    looking at conflict differently.
  44. No matter how negatively you think
    about conflict right now,
  45. it is possible to change that.
  46. It takes three keys
    in order to do that.
  47. The first is to recognize what
    our conflict is really about.
  48. I have a four decade long history
    of fighting about the dishes.
  49. When I was a kid I hated doing dishes, and
    I fought with my parents and my siblings
  50. on nearly a weekly basis about
    who's turn it was.
  51. When I got to college I fought
    with my roommates about the dishes
  52. because sometimes they'd
    go home for the weekend
  53. and they'd leave behind their dirty dishes
    with their half eaten burritos,
  54. with congealed ketchup,
    and bowls of
  55. funky, fermenting, green Lucky Charm milk
    in the sink.
  56. (laughter)
  57. When I got married I fought with my wife
    about how you're supposed to do the dishes
  58. and if it even counts as doing dishes if
    you don't rinse the sink out afterwards.
  59. (laughter)
  60. With my own kids
    I've fought about the dishes,
  61. about them not dirtying 15 cups a day
    because they get a new one
  62. every single time
    they get a drink of water,
  63. and trying to get them to help
    load and unload the dishes.
  64. I mean, maybe I ought to just
    switch to paper plates.
  65. (laughter)
  66. But maybe, it's not about the dishes.
  67. As I think back,
    as a kid it wasn't about the dishes,
  68. it was about independence and
    wanting to make my own decisions.
  69. With my roommates,
    it wasn't about the dishes.
  70. It was about wanting to feel respected
    and wondering
  71. if they valued the relationship
    the same way that I did.
  72. With my wife,
    it's not about how I do the dishes.
  73. It's wanting to feel competent and likable
    no matter how I do them.
  74. With my kids,
    it's not about the dishes.
  75. It's about my identity as a father,
  76. trying to teach them
    respect and responsibility.
  77. You see, conflicts
    are a lot like icebergs.
  78. What we see on the surface
    may seem small,
  79. but what's underneath can send boats like
    the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean,
  80. and if I don't pay attention
    to what's underneath my own conflicts
  81. it can rip holes
    in my relationships.
  82. Conflict is about so much more,
  83. about our identity, our relationships,
    the things that really matter to us.
  84. And as you're thinking about
    you're own conflicts,
  85. maybe you can start to see that
    they might be about something more.
  86. Now, once you recognize what
    your conflicts are really about,
  87. the second key is recognizing
    when you're stuck.
  88. Now, I am no stranger to being
    stuck in conflict.
  89. I started learning about conflict
    because I was terrible at it.
  90. Well, a couple years ago,
  91. I asked my four-year-old daughter
    to put away a couple of "hair pretties"
  92. that she had gotten out.
  93. You know, a hair pretty is like little
    bows and rubber bands,
  94. stuff you put in your hair
    to make it pretty.
  95. (laughter)
  96. So she took them, but she chucked them
    on the floor of the bathroom,
  97. and I said, "You can't just
    put them there on the floor,
  98. you need to pick them up
    and put them in the tray
  99. with the rest of the hair pretties."
  100. She said, " I don't want
    to put them in the tray.
  101. And I said, "You got them out.
    You have to put them away."
  102. She said, "I don't want to!"
    and started throwing a fit.
  103. So she's laying on the floor, so
    I get down on the floor next to her
  104. and I put the little hair pretties
    right next to her hand,
  105. and I bring the tray over,
    and I'm just like,
  106. "Just put them in the tray."
  107. (laughter)
  108. And she said, "I don't want to!"
    and flips the tray.
  109. 20 more hair pretties go flying
    over the floor.
  110. So I'm like,
  111. "Line in the sand.
  112. You're not coming out of this bathroom
    until you pick up all the hair pretties!"
  113. So she tries to rush past me and I
    block the door with my gigantic body.
  114. And she's flailing at me
    with her tiny little fists.
  115. Then 20 minutes later I'm at the door
  116. trying to explain to my neighbor
    who has brought a plate of cookies
  117. to welcome us to the neighborhood
  118. why my daughter is screaming,
    trying to climb over a mattress
  119. that I've used to block the bathroom door.
  120. (laughter)
  121. Now, that may be entertaining for you,
  122. but at the time, for me, not so much.
  123. I was stuck.
  124. That was not working very well
    for me.
  125. Have you ever been in your own conflicts
    and thought,
  126. "This is not working so well for me."
  127. See the thing that gets me stuck there
    is justification.
  128. Justification is believing
    that I'm blameless.
  129. And it's so seductive,
    because in conflict
  130. if I'm blameless, then I don't have to
    do any of the work to change.
  131. I'm not the one that needs to change.
    Somebody else needs to change.
  132. And it keeps us stuck.
  133. As you think about your own conflicts,
    do you ever feel justified but stuck?
  134. Again, that might feel nice in the moment,
    but in the end it's pretty dissatisfying.
  135. It keeps us doing the same conflicts
    over and over again
  136. and nothing changes.
  137. You can get unstuck.
  138. If it's not working for you,
    you can find a different way.
  139. The third key in unlocking the beautiful,
    transformative power of conflict
  140. is to start learning to speak responsibly.
  141. To have those kinds of conversations where
    we can create change in ourselves,
  142. in our relationships,
    in the world around us,
  143. it requires vulnerability, ownership,
    communication, acceptance, boundaries.
  144. It's hard work, though. It can be
    as hard as trying to learn a new language.
  145. I've created the acronym VOCAB
  146. to help you in those moments,
    to think about
  147. how you can be responsible
    in your conflict,
  148. how you can create the change
    that you want.
  149. And it starts with vulnerability.
  150. Vulnerability is my willingness to
    let myself be seen.
  151. To share who I really am,
    how I really feel, even my mistakes.
  152. To share the needs that I have that
    are below the surface.
  153. Now when I'm vulnerable,
    I take off my armor
  154. of justification and defensiveness.
  155. I put down my weapons
    of blame and accusation.
  156. And that can be terrifying.
  157. But it's beautiful because
    it disarms our conflicts
  158. and it creates the potential for us
    to connect instead of to fight.
  159. The O in VOCAB is for ownership.
  160. Ownership is taking accountability for
    my own needs, emotions, and choices.
  161. Have you ever wondered in a conflict,
    "How did I get here?"
  162. Maybe you're in the proverbial doghouse
    and you're sleeping on the couch.
  163. Or maybe your conflicts have escalated
    into the ridiculous
  164. and you have a mattress
    blocking the door of your bathroom.
  165. The beauty of ownership is that
    when I look at my choices and my emotions
  166. in my conflicts,
  167. it starts to help me map the contributions
    that I make.
  168. I can see how I got here.
  169. I can see exactly
    which direction I'm headed,
  170. and if that's not working for me
    it empowers me.
  171. I can shift direction.
  172. The third thing you need, and at the
    center of VOCAB is our communication.
  173. We have to learn to ask,
    listen, and express.
  174. It's not enough that we communicate,
    it matters how we do it.
  175. So I had to learn to stop telling stories
    that ended with a period.
  176. I had to start asking questions -
    the kind of questions that help me
  177. understand what's underneath
    the surface of this conflict,
  178. to help me understand
    the emotions and needs.
  179. After I ask I can listen.
  180. Not listening for the other person
    to make a mistake,
  181. or for me to get defensive,
  182. but to listen to what's really important,
    to hear their requests for change.
  183. And after listening, I can then express.
  184. Not just anger, but express
    with vulnerability and onwership
  185. how I really feel, what I want,
    what's important to me.
  186. These conversations where I start to ask,
    listen, and express;
  187. They're so beautiful because they can
    create empathy
  188. and a different type of conversation.
  189. The A in VOCAB is about acceptance,
  190. and acceptance is embracing reality
    and letting go of what we can't control.
  191. There's very little that
    I can control in conflict.
  192. I can't even get my four-year-old daughter
    to pick up three hair pretties.
  193. I often want to control how
    the other person feels and how they behave
  194. but I have to let that go.
  195. I also have to recognize that
    because conflict is about change,
  196. there's going to be
    some loss involved.
  197. Sometimes it's just the loss of an idea.
  198. Once upon a time I thought that
    relationships were supposed to be
  199. happily ever after.
  200. But the truth is,
    all relationships have conflict,
  201. and until I let go of that fairy tale and
    embrace the reality of my relationships
  202. could I do anything
    when those difficulties came.
  203. Finally, the B in VOCAB is for boundaries.
  204. Boundaries are ground rules
    for acceptable behavior.
  205. Boundaries let other people know what I'm
    okay with and what I'm not okay with.
  206. This is important because even though
    it's difficult to say no
  207. and disappoint somebody,
    "no" is the foundation of trust.
  208. As a mediator, my role is to help people
    who are stuck in conflict
  209. to have a different kind of conversation.
  210. The way we often begin that is by setting
    rules for how we're going to interact.
  211. It usually involves things like
    the parties determining,
  212. "We're not going to call each other names.
    We won't raise our voices.
  213. We're going to keep
    this conversation confidential."
  214. The beauty of that is setting those
    boundaries and respecting them
  215. creates the foundation for trust.
  216. Now, understanding VOCAB,
    seeing how that works
  217. isn't going to cure your conflicts.
  218. It's still difficult to do,
    and I still get stuck in justification.
  219. But when I practice it,
    just like practicing a new language,
  220. I become more fluent.
  221. And it's important because that is what
    creates the changes that I want
  222. in myself, in my relationships,
    and in the world around me.
  223. When my oldest daughter turned six
    and started the first grade,
  224. there started to be a lot of interactions
    with her sisters that ended with tears
  225. and yelling.
  226. She started to be kind of harsh.
  227. I mean, she'd always liked
    to be in charge,
  228. but she was kind of
    bossing her sisters around a lot.
  229. So I tried to put a stop to it.
  230. I lectured her on kindness,
    and nothing changed.
  231. I yelled at her.
  232. Nothing changed.
  233. I gave consequences and punishments,
    and it continued for weeks,
  234. on nearly a daily basis.
  235. And I felt stuck.
  236. I didn't know what to do
    and it was frustrating.
  237. Until one evening,
    I started practicing VOCAB
  238. and creating a conversation for change.
  239. As I was tucking her into bed,
    I kneeled down next to her.
  240. I called her name softly and I said,
  241. "I don't know how to be
    the dad of a six-year-old.
  242. I've never done this before.
  243. But I've been worried and sad.
  244. I don't know what's been going on
    between us and between your sisters.
  245. I hate that I've yelled at you.
  246. I have to own that.
    I don't want that.
  247. What I want is for us to be able to
    talk with each other even when it's hard.
  248. I want us to have a good relationship,
  249. and I want to understand what's happening
    for you. Can you help me understand?"
  250. She said, "I don't know,"
    and crawled under the covers.
  251. So I worked on keeping my heart open.
    I laid next to her.
  252. I tried to breathe in and let go
    of my desire to have her respond.
  253. And then I had the air ripped out of me
    when I heard her say,
  254. "Dad, have you ever been bullied?"
  255. For weeks she'd been
    dealing with a bully at school
  256. and hadn't known what to do about it,
    how to talk about it.
  257. I asked her how she was feeling.
  258. I told her about how I was bullied
    when I was a kid.
  259. We discussed how she could
    set boundaries with kids at school.
  260. We talked about, "How do we want
    to communicate in the future?
  261. How do we deal with these hard emotions
    when they come?"
  262. That conversation changed me,
  263. and it changed our relationship.
  264. It empowered us to continue creating the
    changes we wanted in the world around us.
  265. I no longer see conflict as negative.
  266. It's my chrysalis of change.
  267. It's a doorway of opportunity.
  268. It's the first ray of light
    after a dark night.
  269. What do you want it to be for you?
  270. (applause)
  271. (music)