06 June 2009

Conflict Resolution? or Abuse Resolution?

In a much earlier post on this blog, I examined the "Non-Abusive Presupposition", which is the premise that
people on both sides of a frustrating, or sidetracked, or repeatedly conflicted interaction are non-abusive in the emotional sense; i.e., neither person is a bully or has a cluster B personality disorder [sociopathy, borderline, etc.]
This is a perfectly reasonable premise, but you have to remember it is the premise on which a specific approach to conflict resolution is based. In fact, it is the approach on which all 'conflict' resolution must be based.

Sadly, it is not universally true.

An approach based in the presupposition that both parties to a conflict are fundamentally decent works in that situation - and only in that situation. Where one party is not fundamentally decent, but rather is abusive, the situation is not a conflict. It is abuse, instead of conflict; they are very different things. Another approach is needed.

This approach would generally take the form of

- constraint [as in stopping a meeting when a manager deliberately antagonizes the creative programmer, or ending a phone call when your relative starts in on X],
or, when that is not possible,
- avoidance [ask for a call in number and teleconference to meetings dominated by abusers / 'phony gurus'; always be 'busy' when the bully in your book group wants to do coffee];
when that's also not possible [i.e. your boss screams and throws things, at you, daily, and they're leaving gashes that require stitches, either in your body or your soul] it may well be time for
- the nuclear option: this could involve 'going no contact', setting up an intervention, quitting, or calling 911 or your company's security guards; getting a good employment lawyer, or divorce lawyer; serving the object-hurling boss [or spouse] with a protection order; and [for the boss] filing a lawsuit against the employer who permits and enables abusive managers to throw things at their staff.

This last option is also the last resort, but in real life people often end up here. And in the early stages of a relationship, if you can leave with minimal mess, 'no contact' at the first sign of abuse is the best FIRST resort.

These are hugely different strategies from normal 'conflict resolution' skills, because they have to be.

Personality disordered, abusive individuals neither learn nor change on their own; they're fundamentally averse to taking responsibility for the consequences of their own behavior. They also do not regard you as an equal, ever; that means you will not be able to make yourself heard non-defensively. It's just not possible in that situation. Therefore, it is impossible for conflicts with such individuals to ever, really, be resolved.

The strategy for 'conflict resolution' with abusers must presuppose that they abuse with intent, to gain a reward; you are not in relationship with them; they are predators. To modify the behavior of a predator, you must either remove the reward they expect to obtain from certain behaviors, or you make the behavior so costly to indulge that it's not worth the payoff.

Detachment is as important in 'abuse resolution' as it is in genuine 'conflict resolution' involving two decent, emotionally healthy parties. You need to see clearly in order to discern which situation you're in, figure out what the payoff is for the person misbehaving, and find the best point to disrupt the pattern.

You also have to honestly reckon the cost to yourself, and have a strategy in place for self protection, if you determine that your 'conflict' is actually abuse. People - and groups - and systems - and organizations - who are abusive are invariably vindictive. It's an inherent property of abusiveness, on any scale.

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