Reviewing Techniques When Resolving Conflict

Posted at 22:22pm on 15th January 2009

This is the first Post on my shiny new laptop. As I wrote, yesterday on my Twitter wall (I think that’s the correct jargon) setting up a new computer is a nightmare of mistakes, misunderstandings and misapprehension. Hence the lack of time to add anything to my blog for a few days.

So I thought, today, that I’d write a combi-post. As some of you may know, in addition to posting articles on Creative Writing, my aim is to “offer hope to the hurting” (Click to see What Drives You) . Quite often – as I’ve said before – the two overlap. An article on, say, Are We Guilty Of A Guilty Conscience? could, and should, spark off ideas for a fictitious character’s personality, or a plot development, as well as being self-help for personal growth. For a writer there is no subject that’s off-topic. Everything, to use the vernacular, is grist to the mill.


Consider the following dialogue as a point of conflict. The When is 8.20 a.m at the beginning of a new school term; the Who is a couple (for the purpose of this exercise, I shall call her Debs and him Harry); the Where is their home; the What is that they’re newly involved in doing the school run for their daughter’s four year olds; the Why of the conflict – well, I’ll let you decide for yourselves.

“Oh, my goodness. What a rush! Are the car seats in?” Debs zips up her coat and winds a scarf around her neck as she turns to Harry who is pouring himself a coffee in the kitchen.

Harry looks up. He is always calm and, in contrast, Debs realises that she’s feeling a little flustered.

“I put them in yesterday,” he says.

“The new ones? The booster seats?”

A guarded expression drops over his rugged features. “No.”

“No?” Debs explodes. “They’re too big now for the baby seats. Besides, you know how difficult I find to fasten them in. And how infra dig for them – going to school in baby seats!”

She marches out to the car; slams the front door behind her. It’s too late to do anything about changing the seats. Why can’t he do what I ask him to do, she thinks, irritably.


“Your new laptop’s arrived,” Harry says on Debs return. “How did the school run go?”

“Oh brilliant!” Debs says, in response to the news of her computer’s delivery. She starts opening the box before she’s even got her coat off, properly. And she’s occupied, for the rest of the morning, in unpacking and setting up the computer.

At lunchtime, the twins are collected from school by their mother, who fondly imagines that they might be missing her, so has popped back from work during her lunch break. Following a session of CBeebies – so that the twins can recoup their energies – it’s off to Sainsbury’s.

“Are the car seats in the car?” Debs asks . . .


The two characters in the story above are, in case you hadn't realised, my better half and me. Much flouncing (on my part), helplessness (on his) and helpful advice (from the twins) ensued, as – with lowered voices – we conducted the worst row we’ve had in years. I felt positively mutinous. At least until we reached the supermarket. My other half, outwardly calm, inwardly fumed - “forever”.

Now – you can take the above, and the analysis that follows below, as an illustration of how to use conflict in a piece of writing. Or – if you have no interest in writing – you can use the entire exercise as a means of personal growth and development. So you see what I mean about combi-posts and no subject being off-topic to an author?


The point is that Darling (I can’t keep calling him my other half!) and I trained – and ran – family focus and marriage enrichment classes in our younger days. So when the twins had been returned to mummy, we sat down and talked through the point of conflict in a calm and measured way. This type of sharing is called Feedback, and I shall be writing about how it works in a few days. In the meantime, whether you want inside information on creating character-based conflict for your plot, or you’re interested in learning what might be sparking conflict in your own life – with family, friends and colleagues - here’s what can be gleaned from this scenario.

  1. I wrote, sometime ago, about Conflict and Character. In the scene above, Harry (Darling) is a Sensor and Debs (me) is an iNtuitive. Each of them has different expectations of the other.
  2. Sensors receive information from the world around them logically, via facts and their five senses.
  3. As the label implies, iNtuitives receive information from the world around them via their intuition, instinct or possibilities.
  4. As a result, Harry’s expectation is that if Debs has information she wishes to convey to him, she will do so in a manner that is comprehensible to him, i.e. by telling him, factually, that the twins’ car seats need to be fitted, and by asking him, as a direct question, if he will please fit them. “Harry, please replace the baby seats with the booster seats.”
  5. However, Debs conveys information in the same way that she prefers to receive it: intuitively. When she says, “Are the car seats in the car?” she is taking a leap of logic which she expects Harry to take with her.
  6. To her, this leap of logic is intended to be read as: “Of course, I take it for granted that you know I mean the booster seats not the baby seats; and that if they’re not in, already, would you please put them in.”
  7. Her question, however, is not actually a request for Harry to do anything about the car seats, and so he perceives it merely as an appeal for information.
  8. His answer might, therefore, be one of three: “Yes!” “No!” or “I don’t know.”
  9. But Harry thinks he’s on safe ground. He put a pair of car seats in the car yesterday, and this is what he conveys to Debs.
  10. It is not so much the fact that Harry has forgotten that the booster seats should now be used in preference to the baby seats that infuriates Debs, but that he has completely failed to understand that in asking, “are the car seats in?" what she means is, “will you put them in?”

Does this sound like you? Do you and your partner have problems in understanding one another? Or are there times when you’re dangerously close to misunderstanding colleagues at work?

Do let us know. Leave a comment below. Your contact details will not be visible. But we might all benefit from being able to read each other’s comments.

Photo: Fireworks - Courtesy of

Your Comments:

20th January 2009
at 11:19pm

How very true. Exactly our problem - I am logical (see
everything in terms of a giant spreadsheet but then need precise
inputs) whereas my partner is like Debs in your account. However I
can think very quickly and can move so quickly through the
reasoning that I can lose my partner.

I often find myself irritated by illogical actions which is
unhelpful to my partner (although she has never accused me of being
a Vulcan!) if I let that slip.

We are very different, even to the extent of our church lives
reflect differing approaches (my partner is a people person and
very caring, I am organised and take on administrative roles; we
look for different styles of worship) thus the areas for potential
conflict are legion.

I used to lecture in personal development and thus know all the
ideas and theories about feedback and good communciation but how
easy it is, to lose it when more emotionally involved with

What is comforting is to know we are not alone and even those
who have been married many years such as Debs and Harry still do
not always get it quite right!

I look forward to hearing more on this...

Herbert (Harry may recall why this name!)

21st January 2009
at 3:31pm

Thanks for your comment, Herbert. As you say, even when you know
why misunderstandings occur, practising good techniques is much
harder to do when you're emotionally involved. Still - at least
we know how to resolve them. At least - once we've simmered
down enough to speak to each other without raised voices!

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