Ah, we humans! We are sensitive creatures; highly reactive to criticism, quick to defend our egos, our territory, our self-esteem. Our quick triggers make us prone to see or hear attack even when none is intended and worse yet, if there truly is an attack, our hyper-response tends to blind us to the message behind the attack, a message that could help us forge a path to a better place.

Engaging in a dysfunctional game of ever escalating attack/counter attack serves no one. “Don’t Hear the Attack; Listen for the Message Behind” is not saintly advice, but practical counsel. Listening for the message behind the attack is difficult, often extremely challenging. Set aside the form and words of the attack and ask yourself about the interest behind the position, focus on the “why” rather than the “what”. Make your internal dialogue about seeking information and understanding, not about your reply. Focus on what just might be right or reasonable about the other’s position/feelings and create areas of agreement that can potentially broaden.

Learn to re-interpret, re-phrase attacks and positions into possible interests and feelings and then check for understanding.



“You are constantly undermining my authority with the kids. Just because you don’t have the guts to follow through on setting limits doesn’t mean the kids don’t need them.” – Changing the Conversation by Dana Caspersen, 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution

Message Re-phrased without Attack:

“I think the kids need to have more limits. I am concerned that we are sending mixed messages and I feel angry and frustrated when you do not support my efforts to set and enforce limits.” – Changing the Conversation by Dana Caspersen, 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution

As always, I share what I most want and need to learn. – Nathan S. Collier