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Relationships and Conflict Resolution

Relationships can benefit immensely by using the Heart-Canvas provided that both parties are willing to take short turns expressing themselves and to help each other identify their feelings and needs. Taking turns is often facilitated by using a talking piece (e.g. a stick, a stuffed animal, a stone or sacred object), which grants the holder a turn to speak, while the other person listens with curiosity, empathy and presence. The talking piece is a useful instrument for resolving conflict because it is common to forget whose turn it is to speak in the heat of conflict.

A trained mediator, therapist, or certified Nonviolent Communication trainer are best employed to facilitate high intensity situations (any feelings on the right-side third of the Heart-Canvas in the range of 6-10 out of 10). The remainder of this section can be used for low-intensity conflict for beginners (first third -- intensity from 1 to 3-4), and medium intensity conflict (3-6) for people with some practice.

Conflicts are best resolved when listening and speaking roles change after each need is identified. Therefore, a 2-5 minute timer may be used to limit the amount of time each person speaks without the other person getting a chance. The goal in each turn is to have the speaker clearly identify their needs, and to have the listener acknowledge that need with empathy. Once the needs are reflected in a way that the speaker is satisfied they're understood, roles change. Now the listener becomes the speaker, and vice-versa. The other person now has the opportunity to speak about their own feelings and needs based on what they just heard. This process continues back and forth until both people know that the other understands them... and it is safe to explore strategies to meet everyone's needs.

Conflict Resolution Process using the Heart-Canvas

  1. Each person picks a color set of glass gems from the pouch, allowing both person's feelings and needs to be shown simultaneously on the Heart-Canvas. The sets of same colored gems must be accessible to both people.
  2. Both people list the intensity of their feeling by placing one of their glass gems on the "Intensity" arrow. Each person may optionally select the feeling word to match the intensity, placing their gem there.
  3. Whoever's feelings are the most intense is invited to hold the talking piece first -- this is Person A; the other person listens intently, with curiosity and empathy -- this is Person B.
  4. Start the 2 minute timer
  5. Person A speaks, Person B listens.
  6. If Person B hears or senses a need being expressed, they're invited to silently place a gem near the Need identified. Person B continues doing this either until Person A pauses, or the timer expires.
  7. During a pause or after the timer expires, Person B asks Person A if the need they identified resonates for them -- e.g. "Are you concerned about <InsertNeedHere>"?
  8. Person A gets a chance to reply, either agreeing or clarifying their needs.
  9. Once Person A is clear on their need, Person B acknowledges Person A's expressed need. 
  10. Now, Person B has the opportunity to express their own feelings based on what they just heard and understood. Person A listens with empathy.
  11. The process repeats until both sides have a sense that the other gets their needs.
  12. Both people are now invited to brainstorm and explore strategies to meet both of their needs.

Be sure to check out of the posts on developing a self-empathy practice and listening with empathy.