Weaving the Narrative of a Conflict

Conflict Zen Blog by Tammy Lenski

Conflict takes root in the space between our narrative about what happened and theirs. One way to understand conflict resolution is as the act of weaving a new joint narrative, one that includes the most valuable threads in each story.

A fan approached bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert at a book signing. The woman said, “Eat Pray Love changed my life. You inspired me to leave my abusive marriage and set myself free.”

Imagine sitting at a table, your books in front of you and a line of fans waiting, and hearing such a powerful testament to your work.

The woman went on, “It was all because of that one moment in your book — that moment when you describe putting a restraining order on your ex-husband because you’d had enough of his violence and you weren’t going to tolerate it anymore.”

Gilbert was floored by the comment:

A restraining order? Violence? That never happened! Not in my book, nor in my actual life! You can’t even read that narrative between the lines of my memoir, because it’s so far from the truth. But that woman had subconsciously inserted that story—her own story—into my memoir, because, I suppose, she needed to…Whatever her emotional motive, though, she had embroidered herself into my story and erased my actual narrative in the process.

Source: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

When we weave the narrative of a conflict, we create a tapestry that serves us in some way. Then we look at the narrative we’ve woven as though it is a factual thing, forgetting that so many of the threads come not from fact, but from more malleable and obscure sources.

Some threads are in the tapestry because they align with the way we see ourselves in the world.

Some reflect our mental models of conflict, while others attest to the reflexive loopsreinforcing what we’ve concluded about the other person.

Still others are in the tapestry due the illusion of memory and our emotional needs, as with Gilbert’s fan.

The danger of a list like this is that it implies I’ve gotten them all. I doubt I have.

So many threads, so much weaving, so much pattern-creating. It is seductive to view the resulting narrative as true after all that work.

We can’t stop the weaving. It helps us make sense of the world. We’d do well, however, to remember the narrative is of our own construction and is but one way to view what happened.

Conflict lives and thrives in the space between our own narrative and theirs. We commit to our own narrative and often reject theirs out of hand.

One way to resolve it is to weave a new tapestry from threads in each narrative. Find the threads you can both agree are informative, valuable, insightful. Begin weaving with those and see what new tapestry emerges.

Disclosure: One or more links in this post are affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission if you buy the product or service. Affiliate link or not, I only recommend and link to resources I believe will add value to your life and/or work.
                        author

Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at https://tammylenski.com/archives/… MORE >

Featured Mediators

ad
View all

Read these next

Category

Where We Stand on Mediation Confidentiality, Both in California since the Cassel decision and in the Ninth Circuit

PGP Mediation Blog by Phyllis G. PollackOriginally published in The Advocate, August 2016 Issue. Download the PDF Version of the Article Here (PDF, 250Kb) During the past year, there have...

By Phyllis Pollack
Category

Teaching to Mediate

This video is presented as part of Mediate.com's 25th Anniversary Conference at www.mediate.com/Mediation2020. Margaret Shaw describes an effective way of teaching mediation. It involves classroom learning as well as shadowing...

By Margaret Shaw
Category

Puuuulllllease!

Cinergy Coaching by Cinnie NobleAs we know, the word please is usually meant to be a polite statement that accompanies a request of another. With a drawn out pronunciation and...

By Cinnie Noble

Find a Mediator

X
X
X