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Communication, Conflict & Commitment

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Chow Time

If Jill is watching a television program in the living room while her boyfriend, Chad, fixes dinner for her and he simply yells from the kitchen, "Dinner is ready!" he may not get any response. She may be so wrapped up in the show that she does not even here him, and he has made little effort to assure that she has.

Talking About Important Things

If James and his wife had an important issue to discuss or if they had been having an argument of some sort, James should not attempt to discuss the issue at a busy or inconvenient time nor in a critical or attacking way. James should remain focused on the issue at hand and not bring a lot of other stuff into the discussion. If James is more concerned with understanding his wife's feelings and improving their relationship than he is with my own pride, whatever he says should be good intentioned.

Where Do You Want to Eat?

One Saturday evening after Ben and Ashley had finished doing some shopping, they decided that they were not in the mood to go home and fix dinner so they decided to eat out. Ben had a place in mind that he wanted to go because it was cheap, and after a day of shopping he was not in the mood to spend much more money. Rather than tell my wife where he wanted to eat and why he said, "Where do you want to eat?" Ben could have guessed where she was going to say even before he asked the question. It was their favorite steak and rib place. They enjoyed going there, but Ben did not want to go on that particular night because it was expensive. Ben said "O.K.", not revealing his true feelings. He was miserable and probably made Ashley miserable too during dinner because he had been unwilling to communicate clearly. His anxiety affected her.

Are You Thirsty?

One time on a long road trip, Kathie, who had been reading a book in the seat beside James, said, "Are you thirsty?" James simply said, "No." because he wasn't thirsty and he kept on driving. Kathie paused, and James noticed a strange look on her face. She was wondering if he was rude or just dumb. James did not realize that what she was really trying to say was "I'm thirsty and I would like to stop somewhere and get a drink." Kathie told James what she really wanted a minute later and he apologized for not picking up on the hint. They then had a good laugh about how quickly misunderstandings can occur when messages are not sent clearly.

Important stuff

We naturally use the skill of reflecting anytime something is important to us. Almost every time someone tells us an address or phone number that we want to make sure we've written down correctly, we will repeat it back to them. We don't assume we've gotten it right the first time. Unfortunately, in our relationships with loved ones we often assume we have understood them correctly. Occasionally, we even think we can read our partner's mind, without checking with him or her to see what they really want.

Common Ground Model of Communication

One day Bill's wife said to him, "You sure are messy, but I love you anyway." When Bill heard her say this, he could have been listening in a variety of ways and she could have been sending it in a variety of ways.

Response #1 - Total Disagreement:

If Bill were listening to pick up on the disagreement he may respond, "I am not messy." He may even add something like, "You're one to talk. You always leave your stuff all over the house and you never clean anything." Any of these disagreeing responses by Bill will not build on common ground. They leave little room to build the relationship and most likely will lead to an argument between he and his wife. Even though Bill may not agree that he is messy, there are ways he can respond to his wife that will open up the conversation and give both of them the opportunity to say more.

Response #2 - Total Agreement:

Bill may respond by saying, "I know I am messy and I love you too." Although this sounds like total agreement it depends on Bill's tone of voice and his attitude when he says it. If he says it sarcastically, then he is really disagreeing, he is not building on common ground. If he says it sincerely, he and his wife will have some common ground to build on and some room to work, even if Bill does not totally agree with his wife's accusation that he is messy.

Response #3 - Partial Agreement:

Bill may respond by saying, "I love you too. Is everything o.k.?" Since Bill may not agree with his wife's assessment that he is messy, or since he may not even know what she is referring to he said, "Is everything o.k.?" This response neither agrees nor disagrees with what his wife said about him being messy. It is neither an offensive nor defensive response. It is a caring response. It builds on common ground and acceptance. It gives Bill and his wife space to continue the conversation. She now has an opportunity to respond and because of his appraoch, she will more likely respond openly, honestly, and politely to Bill's question.

Mixed Messages

  • Upon arriving home from work, Amber finds that her husband is in the process of fixing dinner. She feels that she should help him, but she doesn't really want to. She says to him, "Would you like some help with dinner?" as she sinks into the easy-chair in front of the television.
  • Janet is going to a concert with her boyfriend. She is wearing a new outfit and wants to get his opinion about it so she asks him what he thinks. He responds, "It looks great" while giving her a look that would indicate otherwise.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2005, December 09). Communication, Conflict & Commitment. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License