Or – “Who’s got a problem?”

Welcome back to my newsletter “Lessons from the Lab” where I write articles about personal and professional success; based upon social and psychological insight and studies.

In my last letter, I introduced to you the topic of conflict and how relationships can often simmer over time in resentment.

Resentment actually is a form of revenge. Think about that for a moment; when we are resentful, we believe it is the appropriate response to being wronged. But in reality, it may be a passive-aggressive form of revenge, or “getting back at the other person.” When we give the offending party the cold- shoulder, or burnt-toast, and slam cupboard drawers – we may think they are getting what they deserve, while not realizing that we too are part of the problem.

To illustrate, let me introduce to you two people, they are PERSON A and PERSON B. See if you can keep track of each of their respective roles in this scenario: (perhaps you have experienced something much like this in your own life) PERSON A makes a promise to PERSON B which goes something like this; “Honey, I’ll be home tonight for dinner at 6:00PM.”

PERSON A has in fact made a promise to PERSON B. PERSON A then arrives home at 7:30PM (with-out calling to inform). PERSON A has now broken the promise, but feels fine and walks in the door cheerily and says, “Hi honey, I’m home.”

PERSON B is upset!

In my seminar, Conflict: Obstacle or Opportunity, I’ll then ask the audience the question – “In this scenario, who has got a problem – PERSON A or PERSON B?” Invariably, someone will yell out, “Well…PERSON A is GONNA have a problem!!” Most likely that will be true; PERSON B may act out in a hostile-aggressive manner and yell loudly, “Where the HECK were you?!! Why didn’t you call?!! Who do you think you are?!!” Or, if PERSON A is even more clever, they may choose the passive-aggressive route and burn the dinner while mumbling under their breath, “here – eat this…..” After all, did not PERSON A break their promise? It is true, PERSON A done PERSON B wrong! PERSON A deserves everything they get. No doubt about it.

The problem is, neither hostile-aggression or passive-aggression is very effective, is it? Notice that both avenues are aggressive in nature; it’s just that one goes way over the top to give the other person a piece of their mind, while the other goes underneath or sideways to skirt the issue but still let them have it in a much more subtle manner. Each tactic may manifest itself differently in relationships. Couple’s with an over-the-top approach may find themselves to be in a constant battle of yelling competitions with one another – each one getting louder and louder. While couple’s employing the go- sideways approach may see themselves living in the land of silence under the same roof. Cold and quiet.

The answer to the question regarding the scenario above – that is, “who has got the problem?” – is that PERSON B has got the problem. What?! How unfair! Person B did not do anything wrong!

And that is correct.

Yet, the rule of thumb when it comes to conflict resolution is this: the person who is upset has got, or owns, the problem, (remember Person A is not upset – they are oblivious) and thus, the person who owns the problem initiates conflict resolution.

How do you do that? Get in touch with your anger and practice your script.

Stay tuned for Part Three of my next Lesson from the Lab newsletter to find out how to do that and initiate conflict resolution.

All the best,
Psychologist and Humorist, Bruce Christopher
Email me for thoughts, comments, or additional articles: