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Mediate.com

Hey, How Would You Feel If I?

by Vivian Scott
December 2010

From Vivian Scott's Conflicts Of InterestBlog

Vivian Scott
p>Usually blurted out in a moment of frustration, “How would you feel if I…?” is often a last ditch effort by the speaker to be heard, validated, or understood by the listener. I admit I’ve said it myself when I’ve fumbled around for the right words to express the hurt or disappointment another person has caused me. Hearing myself or anyone else utter something akin to, “How would you like it if I did that to you?” or “If I treated you that way, you wouldn’t be very happy!” almost always makes me wince because I know the question rarely moves a conversation forward. In fact, it frequently does just the opposite—and here’s why:

1) You’re asking someone to feel exactly how you feel; to have the same emotions, the same perspective, and then agree with you. If they don’t concur (and they probably won’t) you end up in a circular debate in which the other person finds new ways to discount your feelings. Replies such as, “Well, I would know that it was just a joke and I wouldn’t be such a baby about it!” or “I wouldn’t care so neither should you” most certainly won’t bring the two of you any closer to resolving the issue.

2) You’re asking someone to read your mind, to know the impact of every action that’s ever happened to you, and then know how that historical impact is being applied to the current situation. They can’t do that–only you can. Asking the other person to make the leap from “You wouldn’t like it if I took you to my company picnic and left you to fend for yourself” to understanding the issues you have with unpopular memories from high school is unreasonable if you haven’t explained yourself. People really don’t just know things; we have to tell them.

3) The question muddies up the conversation because the two of you start debating whether or not the statement is true. Responses that include odd and old examples like “that one time when you did that thing that’s sort of like the thing we’re talking about now and I was okay with it” only cause huge distractions and completely derail the discussion.

When “how would you feel” questions are inserted into a debate, the best one can hope for is a response with some level of understanding. And, that happens sometimes. But then what? It may seem you’ve gotten through to the other person but keep in mind that there can’t be that much understanding taking place because you haven’t spent any time discussing what the action brings up for you-i.e. the real issue. Rather than continue down the path of assuming synchronicity I think it’s beneficial to stop and reconsider whether the point is to get the listener to agree with you that they would feel exactly the way you feel or if the point is to gain understanding based on something deeper. I vote for gaining understanding based on something deeper.

When I’m the person ready to blurt out “how would you feel if…” I stop myself and reconsider. I take a moment (okay, sometimes I take days) to figure out what the real issue is for me. Then I own it. I will re-enter the conversation by admitting that what I have to say may make no sense at all to the listener but it’s how I feel and it explains why I’m having such an emotional reaction. I talk about what the situation brings up for me and I let go of the need to have the other person say she’d feel the same way in my shoes. Rather, I explain myself and ask if she will agree to do or not do xyz in the future now that I’ve shared with her where I’m coming from and, more importantly, why. Oh, and I make sure to include a discussion about what the issue brings up for her as well.

If I’m mediating and one of the parties starts in with a “how would feel if…” question, I help both parties through the same process I use for myself. I acknowledge the question by asking what the issue brings up for both them. Though it may seem obvious to focus only on the speaker, I know that there is also something at play for the listener. Perhaps she has no experience with the issues the speaker is bringing up or perhaps she’s applying her own historical event to today’s issue. The two don’t need to agree on how one should feel about the issue; they simply need to spend some time listening to each other’s expanded perspective on it.

Providing clear explanations about how and why an action affects you (or not) is a great way to set boundaries around possible solutions and agreements. Not understanding why one shouldn’t leave her partner alone at the company picnic makes it easier to come up with ideas on how to ease his anxiety with your co-workers than it is to smother him with embarrassing attention at the next event. If she knows how mingling with others without her makes you feel, she’s more apt to honor your request to stay nearby (or take the trash out without being asked, or pick up the kids from daycare on time, or refrain from rolling ones eyes behind your mother’s back, or…).

Biography


Vivian Scott is a Professional Certified Mediator and the author of Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies.  She spent many years in the competitive and often stress-filled world of high tech marketing where she realized resolving conflict within the confines of office politics was paramount to success.  Through creative solutions to common conflicts she was able to bring various entities together, both internally and externally, for the betterment of projects and a productive working environment.     

Prior to retiring from Microsoft in 1999 she developed the “America at Work” video series, a six-part program featuring small businesses employing technology in attention-grabbing ways.  “America at Work” aired on the USA Network and received the Silver Screen Award from the International Film and Video Festival for outstanding creativity.   Using discerning negotiation, mediation, and problem-solving skills, she successfully worked with others to co-create “How-to Guides”, “Seminar in a Box”, and even one of the first on-line Guerrilla Marketing books.   

Since her retirement, Ms. Scott has gone on to earn a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts & Sciences with a concentration in American Studies from the University of Washington.  She completed an extensive practicum with the Dispute Resolution Center of Snohomish & Island Counties where she has mediated numerous cases, helping parties resolve conflict in workplace, family, and other disputes.  Her private mediation practice has handled cases ranging from assisting business partners in ending their relationship to creating a new working environment within a law firm.  Ms. Scott is a member of the Washington Mediation Association and spends a majority of her time advocating embracing peace in a volatile world.   

Her book, Conflict Resolution at Work For Dummies, can be found in bookstores, on www.amazon.com, www.dummies.com, or any number of on-line bookseller sites.    



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Website: www.vivianscottmediation.com

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