OUTWITTING COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
We like to believe that we are rational beings who make rational decisions. Sometimes, we are. And sometimes, we are not.
We each have our own beliefs about how the world works and how we function in it. When we are faced with information that contradicts our beliefs, it can be almost impossible to remain open to this new information. Our brain shuts down, doing the equivalent of, "La, la, la, can't hear you," until this disquieting information goes away. In the alternative, we may listen only to the extent necessary to retrieve information from our memory to refute everything that is being said. All of this can make it quite difficult to have a constructive, productive disagreement with someone else.
The problem is two-fold:
1. Your brain loves to put things into categories. Once something is neatly categorized, once a decision has been made, your brain can relax. It no longer has to think about this topic. This topic can now be handled on autopilot.
2. Once your brain has made a decision about something, it is very invested in that being the correct decision. The time to weigh all the evidence was before the decision was made. After the decision has been made, it is, of course, the correct decision, because your brain only makes correct decisions. Your brain will actively seek out support for its decision. It will also discredit, minimize, and ignore information that would go against its decision.
So, what can you do?
1. Wait to make a decision until you have as many facts as possible. The longer you wait, the longer your brain remains open to all possibilities. Talk about the situation with a wide variety of people. Abraham Lincoln didn't surrounded himself with yes men. He actively sought advice from people who had been his staunch opponents. When you're faced with a tough decision, don't just talk to the people you know will agree with you or say what you want to hear.
2. Don't let the conversation turn ugly. It turns out that venting in anger actually hurts more than it helps. When you treat someone badly, your brain must justify why it was necessary to do so. The focus then turns to demonizing the other person so that the only logical response would be to react as your brain did. If the conversation is about to get ugly, take a break.
3. Take some time, privately, to put yourself in the other person's shoes. Think about the disagreement only from the perspective of the other person. If you were that person, why would you hold that belief? Your brain will try to tell you that it's only because the other person is a jerk or a stupid jerk or a stupid, biased jerk. You need to go deeper than that. What are the cares and concerns for the other person? What are the other person's core beliefs? How are they shaping that person's reaction?
4. We are tribal. Find a way to be a part of the other person's tribe.
You can be part of the same tribe based on gender, religious beliefs, political affiliations, family, similar interests, and so much more. Once you are part of the same tribe, you get extra bonus points just by being part of the tribe. And, you give extra bonus points to other tribe members as well.
Research has shown that Democrats will support a restrictive welfare policy if they believe it to be from the Democratic Party (even if it looks like a stereotypical Republican policy). The same is true in reverse: Republicans will support a generous welfare policy if they believe it to be from the Republican Party (and not the Democrats).
If you make this person part of your tribe, not only is the other person going to be more receptive to what you are saying, you will also be more receptive to what the other person has to say.
All of this will help you to be what your brain already knows you are -- a rational human being who makes rational, correct decisions based upon the information at hand, and who, when presented with new information, rationally evaluates it, and forms new, correct decisions based on all of the information at hand. One can hope, anyway. ;-)
OUTWITTING COGNITIVE DISSONANCE
Are you at a crossroads in your relationship? Are you having problems with communication, connection, and conflict? Please join Susan Lager, a fabulous couples therapist and friend, and myself at Star Island August 30 - September 2 for our annual Couples Retreat. We can help you to move toward better connection, improved communication, and decreased dysfunction in conflict. You can register here. (Yes, we changed the date from June, and the website hasn't caught up yet.)
If you've tried couples therapy or mediation before, then you know both the cost and the value of having a professional present to help you to discuss and move through tough issues. You may also have experienced frustration in trying to do this work an hour or two at a time in the course of your already full lives.
The retreat allows you the time that you need as a couple to truly work on and through the tough issues you face as a couple. It gives you days of access to two professionals who have helped thousands of people to move through situations similar to yours. It provides for all of this to happen at Star Island, a rustic island miles from the mainland, which soothes your body and soul toward relaxation.
If you register by June 15, we will give you $100 off. This is our gift to you for registering early.
Will you give this gift to yourselves?
On May 15, 2015, join me in Brunswick, ME, for a short workshop, "Why is Conflict So Hard?" We will do a quick exercise to explore what each of us bring to the table in terms of conflict. There will also be some helpful hints to help you navigate conflict more successfully. You can register here.
There are 5 ways to handle conflict, according to Thomas-Kilmann:
When you compete in conflict, you approach conflict with the perception that there is not enough, so I have to get mine first. There are only two options – win (all) or lose (everything). You have to win because losing is too scary to contemplate.
When you avoid conflict, you are looking at conflict as a lose-lose situation from your perspective. You do not feel like you have the ability to win in conflict. You do not feel like you have power of any sort over the situation. What is being done is being done to you. There is an external locus of control. You may retaliate in a passive-aggressive fashion, but you will not approach the conflict directly.
When you compromise in conflict, without collaborating, then you apply an external rule to the conflict, rather than examining what might be best for all involved. Think of the wisdom of King Solomon. When faced with two women claiming to be the mother of an infant, he threatened to cut the baby in half. A really bad compromise would be to accept half of a baby. Compromise is often used to settle lawsuits, when the focus is on what the judge would do, what the law would require, and not what would be best for parties involved.
When you accommodate, you are valuing the relationship over being right. You may fear losing the relationship if you actually advocated for yourself and entered into conflict with the other person. In the extreme, you may be so focused on the needs of others that you are blind to your own needs.
When you collaborate, you approach conflict as a natural, normal part of human relationships. You work together to determine how best to meet everyone’s needs.
We all have a default stance that we adopt with respect to conflict. It is likely something that you learned long ago in early childhood. You may find that with certain people, or in certain situations, you just automatically go to that default stance.
For example, think of holidays with your family. Do you find yourself almost magically reverting to old behaviors? If conflict was unsafe, either emotionally or physically, in your family of origin, you may find yourself avoiding or accommodating conflict with the person(s) who made you feel unsafe, as they still make you feel unsafe on some level. If you were taught to be competitive with your siblings, you may find that you are still competing with your siblings after all these years. If your parents were the ones to decide what was fair based on their own rules, rather than on what your needs were, then you may find yourself looking to the rule book when in conflict, rather than listening to the needs of yourself and the other person with whom you are in conflict.
As an adult, you now get to decide whether your current conflict management skills are working for you. Are you tired of competing, of feeling like if you don’t get all then you are nothing? Are you exhausted from accommodating the needs of others? Would you like to move from avoidance to action? Call me. I can help. 207-439-4267