Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

A Conflict-resolution Inventory

Learn Your Constructive
and Destructive Traits

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
NSRC Experts Council


The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/skills/ps_inventory.htm

  Updated 01-10-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in online Lesson 2 - learn communication basics and seven powerful skills Progress with this Lesson depends on concurrent progress on Lesson 1 - free your true Self to guide your personality in calm and conflictual times.    

      This brief YouTube video outlines win-win problem-solving skill. Thye video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this Web site - I've simplified that to seven:

      This worksheet presents sets of constructive and destructive conflict-resolution behaviors. "Constructive" means "helping each person fill their primary needs in a way both people like." Use this worksheet to (a) help you learn how you normally resolve interpersonal conflict, and ways to improve your outcomes; and to (b) promote discussion between you and one or more conflict partners.

      This worksheet assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it 

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • the 7 communication skills

  • how to analyze and resolve most relationship problems


  • Get in a quiet place, and a non-distracted mood. Set aside 20-30 minutes to do this;

  • Confirm that your true Self is guiding your personality. If s/he isn't, free your Self to lead, or expect skewed results here.

  • Focus on an adult or older child you want to improve your conflict-outcomes with;

  • Recall several recent disputes you’ve had together. With those in mind…

  • Check each item below that describes your behavior during these disagreements. Then …

  • Do the worksheet again, checking items that describe your partner's behavior. Then..

  • Share your observations non-judgmentally with the person. Ideally,...

  • S/He'll have had a chance to fill out a copy of this worksheet before you talk together.

  • Look for common behavior (communication) patterns, rather than focusing on specific incidents.

  • Try for an attitude of "How can we resolve our disagreements more effectively?" vs. "Here's what you or I do wrong." This is not about blaming or shaming anyone, or playing "gotcha"!

  • Donít check an item unless you can honestly check all sub-parts of it. If you're unsure, use "?" Links are provided to the answers to most items. Try not to follow them until you're done!

  • Option - to broaden your awareness, each of you...

    complete this inventory of communication strengths before using this inventory, and...

    review and discuss this example of win-win problem-solving in action.

Our Constructive Conflict-resolution Traits

__   __  1)  I see conflict as an opportunity (a) for both of us to learn about ourselves and each other, and (b) to improve our communication skills and relationship.

__   __  2)  I accept that conflict over needs, values, perceptions, and priorities is normal and inevitable in all relationships. I’m usually willing to problem-solve our conflicts co-operatively, rather than "numb out," minimize, avoid, ignore, manipulate, guilt-trip. aggress, threaten, debate, argue, change the subject, fight, play "yes, but...," and/or shut down, give in, or withdraw.

__   __  3)  In important situations, I consistently check to see if...

_ my true Self is guiding my personality, and _ if it isn't, I know what to do about that; and I check to see...

_ if your true Self seems to be guiding your other subselves - and if not, I know what to do about that.

__  __  4)  I can _ clearly describe (a) the seven communication skills and (b) the difference between fighting or arguing, and win-win problem-solving. I _ consistently strive to use the seven skills to problem-solve with you when we disagree.

__  __  5)  I _ can clearly name the five needs we seek to fill by communicating together, and _ I'm usually aware whether our communication needs match or not in important situations.

__  __  6)  I usually seek to resolve our major disagreements soon after they happen, instead of letting them pile up and get old and distorted;

__  __  7)  Where needed and possible, I try to reduce major physical and emotional distractions when we need to focus on important conflict-resolution together.

__  __  8)  I _ try to distinguish opinion or  values differences ("I like my meat rare; you prefer it well done") from disputes over facts and concrete issues ("we each need the car now.") In our values differences, _ I usually aim to compromise or respectfully agree to disagree, vs. trying to convert you to my way.

__  __  9)  I usually try to _ agree clearly on what we each need at the moment, and then _ try to brainstorm cooperatively on mutual compromises and solutions, rather than focusing only on filling my needs.

__  __  10)  I usually try to _ stay focused on our current needs, and I try to _ work with you to avoid bringing up other issues before finishing the present one.

      More constructive conflict-resolution traits...

__  __  11)  I consciously position myself to maintain comfortable, level eye contact.

__  __  12) When we disagree, _ I usually see our respective rights, dignities, needs, wants, integrities, and feelings as being of equal importance. _ My face and body language and voice tone consistently reflect this attitude to you.

__  __ 13)  In key conversations, I often do hearing checks - i.e. I summarize my impression of your thoughts, feelings, and needs from time to time, to see if I understand (vs. agree with) your needs and viewpoints.

__  __ 14)  I try to talk calmly and clearly about what I feel, think, and need, rather than using judgmental words, threats, demands, or "you" (blaming) statements.

__  __ 15)  If I need you to change your behavior (vs. your beliefs, values or opinions), I usually assert _ the specific change I need, and _ how such a change would help me, _ as clearly, directly, and nonjudgmentally as I can.

__  __ 16)  I'm _ clear on the difference between superficial and core-attitude changes, and _ I can usually use that knowledge effectively in our problem-solving.

__  __ 17)  If I note that intense emotions block you from hearing me [your "E(motion) level is above your ears"], I often use respectful empathic listening until you can hear me again.

__  __ 18)  I _ usually express my current feelings honestly and clearly during our conflict, as well as my thoughts and ideas. I'm _ usually alert for "fuzzy thinking" in either of us, and _ I know what to do about it if I spot it.

__  __ 19)  I'm usually _ alert to our awareness bubbles as we communicate, and _ I take responsibility for refocusing on that (metatalking) if either of us doesn't maintain a stable two-person bubble (isn't aware of both of our needs, feelings, and opinions).

      More constructive conflict-resolution traits...


__  __ 20)  I often affirm and validate points where we agree, as well as focusing on our disagreements.

__  __ 21)  I _ strive to tell you about topics Iím so sensitive to that I may react impulsively and destructively (lose control to a reactive false self), and I _ usually try to avoid using your "hot buttons" to get my way.

__  __ 22)  I _ accept that you (your false self) may explode or withdraw "without reason" at times, and _ I try to wait a while and stay centered, before responding.

__  __ 23)  When we end, I _ usually ask whether you got your key communication needs and other primary needs met enough, and I _ tell you honestly if my needs are satisfied enough.

__  __  24)  I _ often acknowledge and show genuine appreciation to you when you try to problem-solve respectfully with me (treat our needs as equally important). I also _ mentally appreciate myself when weíre able to do that, without guilt.

__  __  25)  _ I’m usually able to consider constructive feedback from you on my conflict behaviors and style, and _I’m often willing to offer you respectful feedback and suggestions on your conflict style.

__  __  26)  I usually strive for win/win outcomes, vs. trying to "beat" you, and get my way.

__  __  27)  When we have a major conflict, I’m usually willing to invest a lot of time working for resolution with you without undue resentment, guilt, or anxieties;

__  __  28)  I _ can clearly distinguish between conflicts over physical things, abstract things (e.g. values and opinions) conflicts, and communication-needs; and I _ know how to resolve each of these three types of conflict effectively.

__  __  29)  I'm _ often aware of my inner conflicts, and I'm _ evolving an effective way of resolving them. _ I'm getting better at separating my inner conflicts from our mutual conflicts, and _ I'm motivated to help you do the same, when you're open to that.

__  __  30)  When we disagree, I can often dig down below the surface needs to unearth _ your and/or my primary needs and then _ decide who's responsible for filling them.

__  __  31)


__  __  32)

      As I finish this first part of our conflict-resolution inventory, I'm aware of...



and I need to...



      Pause and reflect - what did you just learn? Do you need a break before completing the inventory?

  Our Destructive Conflict-resolution Traits

      Try to honestly acknowledge items below that fit either of you often, without blame, guilt, or shame. "Destructive" means lowering the odds you'll each get your primary needs met well enough and feel good enough about your interaction. The goal here is to discover and improve your resolution process together, not to blame, defend, excuse, or be "right"!

      If the traits below are frequent, they tend to reduce self and mutual respect and trust - and raise expectations that "talking with you won't help." People who have many of these traits are often unaware of (a) why and how they communicate, and (b) of being significantly wounded and what that means.†


__  __  1)  To reduce uncomfortable tension, I often apologize prematurely or insincerely.

__  __  2)  To avoid appearing weak, I never apologize, and I joke, rationalize, or deny doing this.

__  __  3)  I don't take your opinions, feelings, or needs seriously at times, though I may pretend to.

__  __  4)  If I'm confused, overwhelmed, and/or scared, I withdraw emotionally and/or physically from you, often without explaining what I need.

__  __  5)  If I feel I'm "losing" a conflict, I "hit below the belt" (use my knowledge of your vulnerable areas to shame, hurt, or guilt-trip you, and/or to put you on the defensive).

__  __  6)  At times, I confuse our present disagreement by bringing up other current or old conflicts.

__  __  7)  I often pretend to go along with your view when I secretly disagree, to avoid stressful open conflict.

__  __  8)  I often bring other people into the conflict to confuse it, add excitement, and/or to help me win.

__  __  9)  I deny or minimize my current feelings and/or needs to myself and/or to you.

__  __  10)  I often avoid direct confrontation with you by focusing on a different issue than the one that's really bothering me, and/or pretending I’m OK;

__  __ 11)  I often _ discount you by assuming and explaining what you’re really thinking or feeling ("1-up" mind-reading), and/or by _ interrupting (not listening to) you.

__  __ 12)  Rather than problem-solve directly, I manipulate (try to control) by withholding something you value, like love, sex, touching, time, talk, affection, or support, or by threatening to do so - and I deny this.

__  __ 13)  I don't usually notice _ how we process our conflicts and _ how they turn out. I _ focus only on getting my current needs filled.

    Our Destructive conflict-resolution traits, continued


__  __ 14)  If _ I "lose" a conflict with you (don’t clearly get my way), I lose self respect. If _ you "lose" or "give in," my respect for you drops. I may or may not tell you this, but if I don't, my implied R(espect)-messages broadcast them anyway.

__  __ 15)  I usually think of other people's opposing ideas or wants as being wrong ("You’re 1-down"), rather than different from mine.

__  __  16)  I usually equate compromising with giving in, weakness, or losing.

__  __  17)  To stay feeling 1-up and in control of our conflict process, I often silently or verbally label you or your actions as childish, oversensitive, over-reactive, illogical, or the like. I use emotionally provocative words to help me stay 1-up, and/or to punish you for your choices or behavior. 

__  __  18)  When I'm scared, frustrated, or feeling unheard, I swear, name-call, raise my voice, blame you, talk over you, and/or use emotional or physical threats or force.

__  __  19)  I’m often composing my reply while you’re still speaking (I'm not really listening) - and I deny or minimize this if you confront me on it.

__  __  20)  My body language and/or voice tone often says one thing, while my words say something else - i.e. a false self controls me, and different subselves say different things. If you point this out, even neutrally, "I" (my dominant subselves) feel guilty or anxious, and deny it to myself and/or to you.

__  __  21)  I'm vague, or change what I'm asking for, to control our conflict process. The excitement of our competition is often more satisfying to me than settling it with you, though I’ll deny this to myself and/or you;

__  __  22)  I often or always see your disagreements with my ideas or actions as attacks on me as a person - i.e. I decode them as meaning "You're bad / worthless / inept / stupid / unimportant."

__  __ 23)  I often hint at what I really want, or expect you to "know" it (to read my mind accurately), rather than assert (state my needs clearly and directly).

__  __ 24)  If I say "I hear you," it means that I agree with (vs. understand) you. If you say you understand me, I assume you agree with me.

__  __ 25)  I’m not really motivated to invest much time and effort in _ learning the seven communication skills and _ using them so our conflict resolutions improve.

__  __ 26)  

__  __ 27)

__  __ 28)

As I finish inventorying my/our destructive communication traits, I'm aware of ...



      and I want to ...



  Your Options...

Do nothing / feel discouraged / blame someone / defer (what?) / ____________; or...

Ask your communication partner/s to fill this worksheet out and compare notes, as teammates who will each benefit from celebrating what's good (effective) about conflict-resolution between you, and agreeing on some specific things to improve over time. Evolve ways of helping each other gain your goals.

Get curious about the conflicts among your "inner voices" (subselves). Use this worksheet to gain awareness of them and how they usually resolve problems (or don't).

Continue or start to work on Lesson 2, alone or together. Keep refining and using your definition of "effective communication." Encourage your partners to do the same.

Become more aware of your conflict-resolution sequences, patterns, and outcomes with young people - i.e. who usually gets their needs met? Find creative ways of helping them learn the seven effective-communication skills. Experiment with communication mapping to improve your outcomes. Option: use these communication-blocks, tips, and phrases worksheets to help, and to track your progress.

Invest several weeks to follow each link in this Web page, and read and discuss the articles you find with your key communication partners. Options: print this and other Lesson-2 articles you find useful and give them to selected partners, including any counselors you may be working with.

Pay attention to your key-communication outcomes, and help each other build the habit of affirming yourself and your partner/s on successful (win-win) problem-solving.

      For more perspective and ideas, read this article on "couple karate" and this example of win-win-problem solving in action  between a co-parent couple with a stepfamily loyalty conflict. To raise your motivation to learn, try this communication-basics quiz.

      The unique guidebook Satisfactions (Xlibris.com, 2nd ed. 2010) integrates the key Lesson-2 Web articles and resources in this nonprofit Web site, and provides many practical resources.    


      This inventory of common helpful and destructive problem-solving traits builds on the ideas in self-improvement Lesson 2. It follows the premise that effective problem-solving results from partners trying to fill each person's current needs well enough - as teammates vs. opponents. The inventory closes with some options for using it.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this inventory? Did you get enough of what you needed? If not - what do you need now? Who's answering these questions - your resident true Self, or ''someone else''?

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