We humans are social beings. As we strive to have relationships with other people, it is through this interpersonal connection – the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of not just ourselves but others as well – that we create meaning for ourselves. Sometimes, this connection is gratifying and we continue to act in a certain way to maintain such.
Sometimes, it goes terribly wrong and we are at lost to understand why or how it occurred. Often, when at odds with another we may misinterpret the other’s behavior or feel that we are not appreciated for what we do. At these times, it could be that we inaccurately supposed that the other shared our beliefs and motivations. Or, perhaps they do but have a different way of so expressing.
In these situations, when we are not able to find satisfaction from another, we often try a variety of behaviors in an attempt to get what it is we want. We may behave differently from how we behave when we are content. Think of a child who wants a cookie but is so denied. He might scream or negotiate (rise to the challenge), sulk (withdraw), or accept (accommodate).
But, our behavior is just part of the story. The key is understanding why.
For me, understanding what drives us to behave as we do, and in particular to behave differently when things are going well than when we feel threatened, is vital to working towards preserving relationships.
When working with couples who would like to find a way to reduce conflict, I often find using to a self assessment tool, such as the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), helps them better understand in a non judgmental manner how they have come to misunderstand the other.
The SDI, created by Dr. Elias H. Porter and grounded in his Relationship Awareness Theory, was developed to increase awareness about how we are each motivated and what we need in order to experience satisfaction and worthiness. In on other words, one’s motivation or reason, i.e., what we want, drives one’s behavior, i.e., what we do. The SDI is premised on the idea that conflict occurs when we meet resistance about what is important to us and that we all have particular way of striving for fulfillment in our relationships.
SDI describes 7 different motivational styles that influences why we do what we do. They range from Altruistic/Nurturing (where one has a primary concern for the protection, growth and welfare of others) to Assertive/Directing (where one has primary concern for task accomplishment, and organization of resources to achieve results) to Analytic/Autotomizing (where one has primary concern for well thought out approaches, order, individualism and self- reliance). We all have a style. It just that we have varied ones.
Think how different it is to feel understood that you are not stubborn but cautious because you want to be certain and so you avoid making decisions, or that you are regarded as competitive rather than combative because you expect everyone enjoys pushing for what they want as much as you do, or that you are not spineless but adaptable because you are so open-minded that you freely accept other’s thoughts and feelings. Perhaps too if we understood that what we thought of as a strength, can be, especially when overdone, inappropriate for the circumstance or in relation to a particular person, we could change our behaviors and reduce the potential for conflict. In addition, if we could communicate our intent in a manner to which another can relate we will less likely be misinterpreted.
Similarly, if the co-parenting plan was from the “Analytic” wife, and the “Assertive” husband quickly responded, the Analytical wife might feel, without more insight, that such a rapid response indicated that the suggestion was not taken seriously because it was not thought through by him.
By better understanding why we do what we do, it often becomes clearer that certain behaviors are not directed at another, but are merely the manner in which a person behaves across all aspects of their lives. People can see things differently. There is evidence that merely tuning in to a more positive assessment of an ambiguous situation can bolster our resilience to stress and anxiety. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=tune-your-subliminal-biases-toward-optimism. Understanding both whom you are engaging and how you perceive can encourage a more optimistic view.
Porter, E. (2005) SDI: Manage conflict and improve relationship,Carlsbad, CA: Personal Strengths Publishing.
Porter, E. (1996). Relationship Awareness Theory: Manual of administration and interpretation, Carlsbad, CA: Personal Strengths Publishing
Scudder, T., Michael Patterson, and Kent Mitchell (2012). Have a Nice Conflict: How to find success and satisfaction in the most unlikely places, San Francisco, CA: Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Abby Rosmarin is a facilitator and administrator of the Strength Deployment Inventory, Portrait of Personal Strengths and Portrait of Overdone Strengths Assessments