Conflict is inevitable, resolution is optional, or how to improve conflict resolution with your spouse

After a recent conflict with my wife, I decided to talk with chatGPT about the conflict; if you haven’t tried talking to an ai about complicated matters, you will in the near future.

For the most part, the AI wasn’t very helpful as I wanted it to be:

  • Taking my side
  • Having an opinion
  • Gasping in shock or awe

No, none of that. And while that’s pretty disheartening when you are in the heat of your frustration, it actually was very beneficial in the long run.

ChatGPT is a language model. Kind of like the holodeck from star trek. You navigate the ethereal world of word construction with the use of a predictive language machine and can arrive at some neat insights.

And so I am slowly fizzling out of my upset as I read the AI’s uninspiring responses, it dawn’s on me that this is the first time in my life that I can have a conversation with a completely dispassionate 3rd-party perspective and arrive at an insight for behavior change.

Yes, I can read blogs. I can watch YouTube videos. I can listen to a podcast. But none of that is conversation, all of that is just entertainment.

See, humans evolved to talk through problems as a form of entertainment. In talking about problems with ourselves and with others we can process the information that is churning in our heads. That process of conversational problem solving is what has led to immense insights into human understanding (see: The Republic).

But there is a catch. When we get in conflict, which is inevitable, with those whom we solve problems with, the brain reverts to a problem making machine. It takes inputs as threats and generates outputs as violently as it deems fitting to the conflict. This can be as petty as calling someone a rude name, to slyly implying demeaning qualities about the other, and as destructive as displays of physical intimidation and violent harm. And as frustrating as that is, it is inevitable.

While that is the case, we humans have adapted to this inevitably. And we have developed different strategies and techniques for coming to some form of resolution. Because we all know that prolonged conflict is awful, and so getting back to problem solving is what has worked in the past and so it makes sense that we would work to solve the problem of the conflict. (Ironically, humans create conflicts for the opportunity to resolve them, see: game-playing).

Now imagine me sitting there talking into my phone’s keyboard transcriber all the frustrating feelings and thoughts I am having, all the beliefs and opinions I carry, and then sending that to a language model to process… Well, this is what it had to say:

Now I am not all that interested in showing you how it had said something similar to this over the course of several responses. But what I became immensely interested in was the following: a list of types of conflicts that child rearing parents have, a list of conflict resolution strategies, and a list of de-escalation tactics. Then I took those lists and had it generate a table, including a One-liner of dialogue exemplary of that type, strategy, tactic and I sat and reviewed what it had made.

The dialogue was bland and the table boring to review, but what it gave me was a moment to consider that I had many different options for coming to a resolution over this conflict. All I needed to do was consider what type of conflict it was, what strategy I might want to consider, what tactics would be useful to de-escalate the situation and finally a one-liner of dialogue to start the resolution strategy.

I must admit, I felt catharsis.

Later that night, after our son went to bed, we found ourselves seated on the couch and I was rambling on about one of my frustrations I am experiencing with one of my hobbies. And that’s when I decided to make an attempt at resolution. I leaned back slowly into the cushions, placed my hands interlocked on top of my head and said the following:

“You know, I talked to the ai at great length about our conflict this morning.”

And she took a deep breath and said pensively, “Any feedback?”

To which I replied in an even and measured tone, “In an even and measured tone, please describe the events that took place this morning.”

From there she took the time to unfurl her perspective and I made every effort to breathe slowly and deeply while imagining her perspective as if I was looking through her eyes đź‘€. She did great expressing her point of view evenly and in measured steps which allowed me to process and imagine her perspective. This process took time, yes, and it was difficult to stay focused on her perspective with all the mental commentary going on; but I kept breathing to an even and measured pace and was able to process her input without setting off the brain’s “Enemy:Destroy!” feature.

Once she was done, I thanked her for her perspective and reassured her that I heard her. I told her that I wasn’t going to try to feed her back her perspective, as I thought that very rude given the circumstances, but I did hear her and I was grateful she took the time to share with me in a even and measured way.

I guess it goes almost without saying that the experience was cathartic. I woke up feeling closer to my partner and I knew that I needed to share my insights with others. So I began working to build a template, a Kata, for handling conflicts more quickly in the future. You can find that 👇

And so there you have it, you now have a way to process conflicts and improve your resolution skills. I hope that my story of working with an ai was interesting, and I hope that showing how problem solving can be made easier when we work from a dispassionate language model. The Kata I provide is a language model trained specifically for conflicts with a family member, but it is conceivably possible to improve the Kata over time to include all conflicts. The only way we can do that is to get your feedback on it.

Anyway, I hope you have a great day of improving your life, even if in a really small way. Because remember, when the butterfly beats its wings, it can blow the dark clouds off from overhead.

How to See Through the Fog: on reading “The Art of Thinking Clearly”

As you might have seen from some of the other posts that I have made, process is kind of an important thing to consider. When it comes thinking however, many of us don’t really have a prcess. Now, I did cover Ultra Learning and habit formation in some other posts, but I have never really dived into thinking.

There really are three thing that I want to talk about here:

An encyclopedia about biases, fallacies, and thinking errors

The art of thinking clearly and a picture of the author, he's handsome.

When I came in contact with The Art of Thinking Clearly, I thought I was going to be reading a book about how to think clearly. I know, sounds pretty self explanatory. But what I found was anything but that, The Art of Thinking Clearly is a book about the different ways that human beings make mistakes in their thinking, and it does this by outlining 99 different biases, fallacies, and thinking errors.

Truthfully, I wanted a book that was going to read more like a novel, like The Goal, or like a journey into a subject matter, like The Power of Habit, but having a book that acts like a lean encyclopedia or catalog was fine after I got thinking about it. I mean Rolf Dobelli does a fine job in some instances of demonstrating where he has seen some of the companies he’s consulted make serious error, but The Checklist Manifesto (on of the earliest books I reviewed) is leagues above this book in terms of raw story telling and practicality.

I mean, Rolff didn’t really do anything more than just copy and paste. But I don’t want to be too damning on this book, I was able to really make headway in some other areas of my life as a result of having a very high overview of ways that I make mistakes when I do serious thinking.

All Decisions Start as Ideas

So let’s talk about what thinking errors really impact. If you guessed decisions, than you are reading the heading of this section and that makes you a smart cookie. Gold Star for you.

See decisions are at the root of what of nearly all of our conscious actions. Granted, habits do have a profound impact on the long term effects of decisions that we have made. Some decisions we’ve made are so small that it is hard to see how we ever arrived at making them to begin with: do you like coffee or tea?

But what does this have to do with thinking clearly. Well, one of the many, many, biases that Dobelli covers is what is known as the Hindsight Bias. And in the year of 2020, there is no better year than this year to use the phrases “Hindsight is 2020” as the root for making better decisions. So what is the hindsight bias? As Dobelli puts it, “We can aptly describe it as the ‘I told you so’ phenomenon: in retrospect.”

So what does he mean by that? It would be easy for us to say some like “I told you Corona Virus was going to cause the world economy to collapse” without ever having said those words. Or “It was inevitable for the George Floyd Riots to become as large as they did.” We had no idea that these events would grow to the size or complexity as they did while they were happening, it is only after the fact that we can see that hindsight is 2020.

Now, Dobelli offers a suggestion on how to become aware of this bias. And truthfully it is very difficult to overcome, if not nearly impossible (in his opinion), but there is a way for you to become more aware. He recommends keeping a journal where you make guesses as to what is going to happen, and then review them later on to see just how wrong you were. Now if this is silly, and you don’t want to make the time or effort, just look at political polls for 2016 and the news leading up to the results of the election. It was quite clear that someone was going to win, but it is rather peculiar that the people who predicted one outcome were surprised that an entirely different outcome occurred.

Decision Journaling Could lead to Better Thinking

But lets say that you are interested in keeping a journal, or you already do and you want to explore different facets of your journal life. Well, that’s really good to hear, you get another gold star and a fun exercise. This exercise is called Decision Journaling. The essence of this exercise is to create a template, or a set of questions, and answer them regarding a decision that you need to be making. I found that this exercise isn’t very fun when it comes to small decisions like what to wear in the morning, but I found that it is incredibly rewarding when it comes to decisions like who I am deciding to vote for.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the exercise. You would start with a decision like “who I am going to vote for” and you would answer a few questions about it. Some examples are:

  • What’s the date
  • What’s the time
  • What are you calling this decision
  • What state of mind are you in
  • What is the situation/context of the decision
  • What is the central problem being addressed in this decision
  • What are some of the factors/variables controlling the situation
  • What are some of the possible alternative outcomes
  • What is the probability of your desired outcome happening
  • What do you expect to happen now that your decision is made
  • When are you going to review this decision

To be fair, I flat out plagiarised nearly all of the questions from this blog, but they have been really thought provoking questions to start with. And just so I wasn’t a complete thief, I made my own list of questions that you can totally steal. Click the link below to catch a copy of my 8 page pdf with hundreds of different questions to ask when you make your decision journal template.

Now, after you have a couple questions that you feel comfortable asking your self every time that you need to make a decision, you are going to want to take a picture of that, or print it off, and then you are going to set a reminder, or make a calendar event, or what ever you do to remind your self of something and you are going to revisit this thought in say… six months. At that time you are going to ask your self a couple more questions to see what you learned and what was the outcome after the fact.

El Fin

I hope that this was a helpful blog post, I have been thinking about it for a long time and I wanted to make absolutely sure that I was delivering a really great piece for you, I know that the 8 pages will actually be super helpful when it comes to making any decision. My friends who have already snagged a copy have said they have already picked out a few that they want to tattoo on their foreheads so that other people asking them and are reminded of to think about before they make dub decisions.

What questions do you ask your self before you make a decision? comment below!