from the


from the Top of the Mind


from the
Top of the Mind

“Dr. Crawford’s presentation was the highlight of the conference and a much needed reminder for all of us (especially nurses) to keep it all balanced. Bill’s psychology background surely protruded through his messages and I know it was well-received by all!”

Nancy Perovic, RN, BSN
University Of Chicago Hospitals, Chicago, IL

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Resolving Arguments Between Coworkers & Family Members

I have chosen this quote for our weekly connection because I like how it describes the problem, i.e., the tendency to try to deal with others by “fighting their existing reality,” or trying to convince them that what they believe to be true is wrong. When we do this, what often happens is that the person we are trying to convince begins to argue more vehemently for the very position and/or behavior we are trying to get them to change. I bet if you think back to most conflicts in the past, you will recognize this tendency.

Therefore, I suggest that we do several things: First, we need to truly understand their “existing reality,” or what they believe. We don’t have to agree with this, but they must know that we get what they are saying and can understand that this is important to them. Otherwise, they will just continue to try to convince us of the righteousness of their perspective. This is why almost all courses in communication and/or conflict resolution prescribe listening for understanding, and then communicating that understanding as a critical factor in successful conflict resolution.

What they don’t tell you, however, is the importance of the next step, i.e., moving the discussion from the past to the future, and from the brainstem (or the lower 20% of the brain) to the neocortex (the upper 80%).

This is because the neocortex (what I call the “Top of the Mind”) is where we make purposeful decisions, access our interpersonal skills, and create solution-focused conversations, while the brainstem is where we generate all the righteous indignation that blocks our ability to resolve conflict. Therefore, if our goal is truly to create a conversation about a solution (versus win the debate) then we must be in this upper 80%, and then, we must get them to shift to this more solution-focused part of the brain, as well.

A huge factor in this shift is whether we are talking about the past or the future. Generally, a discussion about the past is unproductive, because they will remember it one way while you remember it another. This often results in a “Who’s right!” debate, and rarely leads to a resolution to the conflict.

If we can shift the conversation to a discussion about the future, and blend what is important to them with what is important to us, however, we have a much better chance of finding common ground and crafting agreements that everyone can support. That’s because the future is always about what we want to create and what we want to try, versus who’s to blame for some problem in the past.

Of course, all of this is easier said than done, and requires that we stay in the “Top of the Mind,” or our neocortex, regardless of what they do or say. This is challenging because our middle brain (limbic system) tends to interpret their difficult behavior as dangerous, and throws us into the part of the brain designed to deal with danger (the brainstem). Given that we don’t want this old unconscious, reactive brain to be in charge of who we are, I suggest that we become skilled at the LEAP Model.. Listening, Empathizing, Asking (future oriented, solution-focused questions) before we move to Problem-solving.

If you would like those in your organization to have these skills, I suggest you contact me… because, until we learn what is important to them, and learn how to frame this information in a solution-focused question about the future, we will simply be fighting their existing reality. In other words, we will remain stuck in the lower part of our brain and engaging the lower part of theirs… what I call banging brainstems.

~ All the best, Dr. Bill

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