Posted by: Debbie Loyd | January 4, 2011

Fix-It Talk

The definition of a problem determines the solutions we choose.  Our natural tendency, as we have learned, is to define a conflict in terms of  a defect in our partner. We also saw that there are many underlying elements in a conflict.

So how do we talk about it with each other? Christensen & Jacobson suggest creating a “story” about the problem that includes both people. Interestingly enough, the more complex this is, the more effective it is in suggesting solutions. There are elements that should and should not be included in the story. This will be more clear if I put some of these in chart form.


Focus on This                                                         Not This

Differences between you Defects
Descriptions (facts) Opinions or Interpretations
Vulnerabilities/Feelings triggered by the behavior Offending Behavior
Descriptions of your individual coping processes Evaluations
Present dilemma & solutions Past grievances
Yes-And Thinking Either-Or Thinking


In the last blog, we already looked at differences vs. defects, so let’s look at the others. In describing what set off the conflict, think in terms of facts. Facts are things which cannot be argued. For example, “when we’re sitting at the table at breakfast” is fact (unarguable) and “you’re reading the newspaper” is fact (unarguable). Contrast this with, “when you ignore me at breakfast”  which is opinion (arguable).

Next, describe your experience (vulnerabilities and feelings triggered by the behavior). For example, “It’s hard for me to relax when there is a lot of clutter” (This works better than “You’re a lousy housekeeper.”)

The next step is to describe how each of you copes with your vulnerabilities and feelings. For example, “When I feel attacked, I withdraw. When I withdraw, you feel abandoned and pursue me with lots of questions.”

Always stay focused on the present problem and resist the temptation to bring in past grievances. Yes-and thinking is collaborative and includes both people’s experiences whereas either-or thinking leads to arguing about who is right and who is wrong.

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