The beauty of conflict | Clair Canfield | TEDxUSU

The beauty of conflict | Clair Canfield | TEDxUSU

Articles Blog

Translator: Jeff Broadbent
Reviewer: Xinyi He (music and applause) I’ve heard it described as a volcano
that’s about to erupt. A hurricane. Like slow-dancing barefoot
on broken shards of glass. Like trying to hold back
the ocean with a broom. War. The plague. Like being drawn and quartered. These are just a few examples
of thousands of metaphors I’ve collected about conflict. What’s conflict like for you? Your metaphor matters because it often reflects how you
think and feel about conflict. So it makes sense that if you think
conflict is the plague, you’d probably want to avoid that, and avoid everybody else that
has it too. If it’s like trying to hold back
the ocean with a broom, I would imagine that feels frustrating
and futile. So what do you do when the waves
just keep coming? Because conflict washes ashore in all
of our relationships; at home, at work, in our neighborhoods. And you’ve probably already been given
advice on how you should deal with it. “Communicate.” But sometimes talking about it
seems to make it worse. “Don’t go to bed angry.” So you stay awake, and now
you’re angry and tired. (laughter) Or,
“You just have to learn to compromise.” But if your compromise has ever felt like, “You don’t get what you want,
I don’t get what I want, but at least together
we’re mutually miserable.” (laughter) Now I’m sure all of this advice
is well-intentioned, but it treats conflict
as if it’s a problem. What if conflict isn’t a problem? What if it’s a solution? What if it’s not negative,
but full of beauty? After 15 years of studying, researching,
teaching, and training in conflict, I’ve learned to see it differently. I’ve been able to see the power
it has to transform – to transform us, our relationships,
and the world around us. It can be difficult, though,
to create that change. And it means we have to start
looking at conflict differently. No matter how negatively you think
about conflict right now, it is possible to change that. It takes three keys
in order to do that. The first is to recognize what
our conflict is really about. I have a four decade long history
of fighting about the dishes. When I was a kid I hated doing dishes, and
I fought with my parents and my siblings on nearly a weekly basis about
who’s turn it was. When I got to college I fought
with my roommates about the dishes because sometimes they’d
go home for the weekend and they’d leave behind their dirty dishes
with their half eaten burritos, with congealed ketchup,
and bowls of funky, fermenting, green Lucky Charm milk
in the sink. (laughter) When I got married I fought with my wife
about how you’re supposed to do the dishes and if it even counts as doing dishes if
you don’t rinse the sink out afterwards. (laughter) With my own kids
I’ve fought about the dishes, about them not dirtying 15 cups a day
because they get a new one every single time
they get a drink of water, and trying to get them to help
load and unload the dishes. I mean, maybe I ought to just
switch to paper plates. (laughter) But maybe, it’s not about the dishes. As I think back,
as a kid it wasn’t about the dishes, it was about independence and
wanting to make my own decisions. With my roommates,
it wasn’t about the dishes. It was about wanting to feel respected
and wondering if they valued the relationship
the same way that I did. With my wife,
it’s not about how I do the dishes. It’s wanting to feel competent and likable
no matter how I do them. With my kids,
it’s not about the dishes. It’s about my identity as a father, trying to teach them
respect and responsibility. You see, conflicts
are a lot like icebergs. What we see on the surface
may seem small, but what’s underneath can send boats like
the Titanic to the bottom of the ocean, and if I don’t pay attention
to what’s underneath my own conflicts it can rip holes
in my relationships. Conflict is about so much more, about our identity, our relationships,
the things that really matter to us. And as you’re thinking about
you’re own conflicts, maybe you can start to see that
they might be about something more. Now, once you recognize what
your conflicts are really about, the second key is recognizing
when you’re stuck. Now, I am no stranger to being
stuck in conflict. I started learning about conflict
because I was terrible at it. Well, a couple years ago, I asked my four-year-old daughter
to put away a couple of “hair pretties” that she had gotten out. You know, a hair pretty is like little
bows and rubber bands, stuff you put in your hair
to make it pretty. (laughter) So she took them, but she chucked them
on the floor of the bathroom, and I said, “You can’t just
put them there on the floor, you need to pick them up
and put them in the tray with the rest of the hair pretties.” She said, ” I don’t want
to put them in the tray. And I said, “You got them out.
You have to put them away.” She said, “I don’t want to!”
and started throwing a fit. So she’s laying on the floor, so
I get down on the floor next to her and I put the little hair pretties
right next to her hand, and I bring the tray over,
and I’m just like, “Just put them in the tray.” (laughter) And she said, “I don’t want to!”
and flips the tray. 20 more hair pretties go flying
over the floor. So I’m like, “Line in the sand. You’re not coming out of this bathroom
until you pick up all the hair pretties!” So she tries to rush past me and I
block the door with my gigantic body. And she’s flailing at me
with her tiny little fists. Then 20 minutes later I’m at the door trying to explain to my neighbor
who has brought a plate of cookies to welcome us to the neighborhood why my daughter is screaming,
trying to climb over a mattress that I’ve used to block the bathroom door. (laughter) Now, that may be entertaining for you, but at the time, for me, not so much. I was stuck. That was not working very well
for me. Have you ever been in your own conflicts
and thought, “This is not working so well for me.” See the thing that gets me stuck there
is justification. Justification is believing
that I’m blameless. And it’s so seductive,
because in conflict if I’m blameless, then I don’t have to
do any of the work to change. I’m not the one that needs to change.
Somebody else needs to change. And it keeps us stuck. As you think about your own conflicts,
do you ever feel justified but stuck? Again, that might feel nice in the moment,
but in the end it’s pretty dissatisfying. It keeps us doing the same conflicts
over and over again and nothing changes. You can get unstuck. If it’s not working for you,
you can find a different way. The third key in unlocking the beautiful,
transformative power of conflict is to start learning to speak responsibly. To have those kinds of conversations where
we can create change in ourselves, in our relationships,
in the world around us, it requires vulnerability, ownership,
communication, acceptance, boundaries. It’s hard work, though. It can be
as hard as trying to learn a new language. I’ve created the acronym VOCAB to help you in those moments,
to think about how you can be responsible
in your conflict, how you can create the change
that you want. And it starts with vulnerability. Vulnerability is my willingness to
let myself be seen. To share who I really am,
how I really feel, even my mistakes. To share the needs that I have that
are below the surface. Now when I’m vulnerable,
I take off my armor of justification and defensiveness. I put down my weapons
of blame and accusation. And that can be terrifying. But it’s beautiful because
it disarms our conflicts and it creates the potential for us
to connect instead of to fight. The O in VOCAB is for ownership. Ownership is taking accountability for
my own needs, emotions, and choices. Have you ever wondered in a conflict,
“How did I get here?” Maybe you’re in the proverbial doghouse
and you’re sleeping on the couch. Or maybe your conflicts have escalated
into the ridiculous and you have a mattress
blocking the door of your bathroom. The beauty of ownership is that
when I look at my choices and my emotions in my conflicts, it starts to help me map the contributions
that I make. I can see how I got here. I can see exactly
which direction I’m headed, and if that’s not working for me
it empowers me. I can shift direction. The third thing you need, and at the
center of VOCAB is our communication. We have to learn to ask,
listen, and express. It’s not enough that we communicate,
it matters how we do it. So I had to learn to stop telling stories
that ended with a period. I had to start asking questions –
the kind of questions that help me understand what’s underneath
the surface of this conflict, to help me understand
the emotions and needs. After I ask I can listen. Not listening for the other person
to make a mistake, or for me to get defensive, but to listen to what’s really important,
to hear their requests for change. And after listening, I can then express. Not just anger, but express
with vulnerability and onwership how I really feel, what I want,
what’s important to me. These conversations where I start to ask,
listen, and express; They’re so beautiful because they can
create empathy and a different type of conversation. The A in VOCAB is about acceptance, and acceptance is embracing reality
and letting go of what we can’t control. There’s very little that
I can control in conflict. I can’t even get my four-year-old daughter
to pick up three hair pretties. I often want to control how
the other person feels and how they behave but I have to let that go. I also have to recognize that
because conflict is about change, there’s going to be
some loss involved. Sometimes it’s just the loss of an idea. Once upon a time I thought that
relationships were supposed to be happily ever after. But the truth is,
all relationships have conflict, and until I let go of that fairy tale and
embrace the reality of my relationships could I do anything
when those difficulties came. Finally, the B in VOCAB is for boundaries. Boundaries are ground rules
for acceptable behavior. Boundaries let other people know what I’m
okay with and what I’m not okay with. This is important because even though
it’s difficult to say no and disappoint somebody,
“no” is the foundation of trust. As a mediator, my role is to help people
who are stuck in conflict to have a different kind of conversation. The way we often begin that is by setting
rules for how we’re going to interact. It usually involves things like
the parties determining, “We’re not going to call each other names.
We won’t raise our voices. We’re going to keep
this conversation confidential.” The beauty of that is setting those
boundaries and respecting them creates the foundation for trust. Now, understanding VOCAB,
seeing how that works isn’t going to cure your conflicts. It’s still difficult to do,
and I still get stuck in justification. But when I practice it,
just like practicing a new language, I become more fluent. And it’s important because that is what
creates the changes that I want in myself, in my relationships,
and in the world around me. When my oldest daughter turned six
and started the first grade, there started to be a lot of interactions
with her sisters that ended with tears and yelling. She started to be kind of harsh. I mean, she’d always liked
to be in charge, but she was kind of
bossing her sisters around a lot. So I tried to put a stop to it. I lectured her on kindness,
and nothing changed. I yelled at her. Nothing changed. I gave consequences and punishments,
and it continued for weeks, on nearly a daily basis. And I felt stuck. I didn’t know what to do
and it was frustrating. Until one evening,
I started practicing VOCAB and creating a conversation for change. As I was tucking her into bed,
I kneeled down next to her. I called her name softly and I said, “I don’t know how to be
the dad of a six-year-old. I’ve never done this before. But I’ve been worried and sad. I don’t know what’s been going on
between us and between your sisters. I hate that I’ve yelled at you. I have to own that.
I don’t want that. What I want is for us to be able to
talk with each other even when it’s hard. I want us to have a good relationship, and I want to understand what’s happening
for you. Can you help me understand?” She said, “I don’t know,”
and crawled under the covers. So I worked on keeping my heart open.
I laid next to her. I tried to breathe in and let go
of my desire to have her respond. And then I had the air ripped out of me
when I heard her say, “Dad, have you ever been bullied?” For weeks she’d been
dealing with a bully at school and hadn’t known what to do about it,
how to talk about it. I asked her how she was feeling. I told her about how I was bullied
when I was a kid. We discussed how she could
set boundaries with kids at school. We talked about, “How do we want
to communicate in the future? How do we deal with these hard emotions
when they come?” That conversation changed me, and it changed our relationship. It empowered us to continue creating the
changes we wanted in the world around us. I no longer see conflict as negative. It’s my chrysalis of change. It’s a doorway of opportunity. It’s the first ray of light
after a dark night. What do you want it to be for you? (applause) (music)

37 thoughts on “The beauty of conflict | Clair Canfield | TEDxUSU”

  1. I have so much respect for Claire. One of my first professors at college, still of one of my all time favorites. There was a day when class got cancelled, and I ran into him in a hallway and we ended up talking for 45 min just as friends about the things in this video. Total mentor and a great guy

  2. Burdan bu konuşmayı bize izlettiği içün duygu hocaya teşekkürlerimi iletiyorum. One of the best TED talk that i watched!

  3. The three pillars of CONFLICT
    1. When its about the dishes, its not about the dishes
    2. We can get stuck – the seduction of justification
    3. The art of speaking resposibly – like learning a new language
    V ulnerability
    O wnership
    C ommunication
    A cceptance
    B oundaries

    Conflict can be the engine of rejuvenation and creating better versions of ourselves! Amazing conversation

  4. So good. I was so lucky to have discovered the communication degree at USU. These professors are amazing.

  5. how do i get it in spanish? does anyone know? so i can show it to my friends and family

  6. Thank you for sharing your personal story and what you found from the experience. It surely touched many hearts and souls since we all have had those stuck times in our life.
    I am working on it to speak fluent my VOCAB. Thanks : ) I hope you and your daughter stayed together strong through the hard time. I hope she is doing great at school and be respected and loved by people she meets. God bless you and your family.

  7. Wow hearing this father talking to his bossy daughter which he then found out was being bullied made me cry. I could feel his pain in his words… wow, incredible Ted Talk… <3 Thank you.

  8. Watched this for a class assignment and the ending of him talking about his daughter reminded me of God, how he comes to me and comforts me when I am so stubborn. I cried. This was beautiful.

  9. How do I get in touch with this guy? Would love for him to be a guest on my podcast / channel / feed where we inspire others always on my channel. Lmk!

  10. Please someone answer these questions
    What does VOCAB stand for and how you use it in your personal life?

  11. Well said. This man gets it. Politicians on both sides of the isle may benefits from what is said here.

  12. RESPECT! This conversation changed my life. From now on Conflict will be a doorway of opportunity to me as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *