Thursday, July 23, 2009

Series: Co-Authoring for Lazy and Informative Two-Somes

So we’ve told you how to find the life mate.

We’ve told you the things you need to think about when settling into a groove with the life mate.

In this edition…we are going to tell you how NOT to kill the life mate.

You heard us right. Do Not Kill the Life Mate.

Repeat after us.

Do Not Kill the Life Mate.

We don’t want you to think that it’s all warm chocolate chip cookies and puppies all the time. There will be disagreements, even potentially arguments. The trick is in how you handle them. Or more importantly, how you are willing to handle them.

So with that said, pull up a seat, and let our resident expert in Communication, ProfMom, give you the 411 on three basic types of conflict.

Simple—this does not imply easy. A simple conflict is one in which parties disagree. People see multiple means to an end or may not even agree on what the end goal is. In fanfic collaboration, partners may not share the same vision for the plot or for a character’s direction. Smaller disagreements may occur of when to post a chapter or how to say a line.

In theory, what makes this conflict “simple” is that it is unencumbered by the emotional investment of other kinds of conflict.

We are both very stubborn and opinionated, and when discussing plot we decided from the get-go the best thing was to outline the whole story so we could both agree on what every chapter would be like.

Generally whenever we fight (discuss) what each of us thinks would be the best thing, each of us tries to keep an open mind and listen to whatever argument the other person has. They also have to be valid arguments, things like 'because I want to' don't go well at all LOL...

We both know we need to come up with convincing and accurate arguments in order to convince the other one.

That said, there are times when it is practically impossible to convince the other, then we compromise. Finding the middle ground is the best option to keep us all happy, and more often than not, one of us will understand what the other is trying to say and we'll go along with it.

For XShear and I is more important to stay friends, and we'll always try to find a way that the story won’t interfere with that... so far we have been able to compromise on most of it, but I do admit there have been times when we just couldn't come to an agreement and had to drop the idea all together.

Pseudo—this does not imply fake. Pseudo conflicts are real; we don’t have to look any farther than a good E/B angst fic to find it. This is largely about miscommunication. One of several things happens with pseudo conflict. Either people don’t understand each other’s language, or they have trouble communicating their intentions. As a result, partner’s perceive they are at odds, when they may not be.

One of the reasons this kind of conflict escalates is because of the emotion of frustration, one of the most dangerous in human communication. Frustration often gets confused with anger and leads us to look at the other person as an enemy. And the result is the last kind of conflict.

Until you take the time to discuss it, the misperception will continue to breed resentment.

We started out with no expectations on reception or response, simply a general direction of the story we wanted to tell. As the story evolved, I found myself taking on more and more of the story direction (outline, plot points, etc) with Dawn helping to write content in each chapter.

But as attention grew, the pressure kicked in and it started to take the fun out of it for both of us. I wanted to focus on The Office, where as Dawn was shifting her attention to original fic. It got to a point where it felt like all we did was argue, and we decided that it just wasn’t working out, that our friendship was much more important.

We still talk everyday thanks to skype, and I can honestly say that we are probably better friends now than they were before. A lot of people would expect it to be weird between us, but we talk about The Office all the time. She's thrilled with how it’s grown and where I've taken it.

Ego—this doesn’t always mean people have big heads (thought it might). Ego conflict is when there is either a real or perceived personal attack. Perception is important because things like tone of voice and innuendo can lead us to feel threatened in some way.

There are so many ways in which conflict can turn personal, often unintentionally. If one partner isn’t particularly fond of something the other says, perhaps, it comes across as a criticism of writing style. Sometimes in the fabulous world of email and gchat, lack of nonverbal also plays a significant role in conflict. Up to 90% of all meaning in communication comes from nonverbal sources including tone of voice, gestures, and facial expression. When teasing or joking are using with printed text only, much context can be lost.

I should have known from the start we were doomed; without hashing out most major plot points, she told me to outline the story. You read that right, she didn't ask - she simply told me to, and I'm pretty sure (based on some storyline arguments we had later) she never even read it.

When I brought up inconsistencies or problems I had with her chapters, she would often get ultra-defensive and actually angry with me. Sometimes she would sign off chat and not speak to me for a day or two. It was very, very stressful to me, as a born people pleaser.

Often, editing the chapters she wrote took me twice as long as writing my own chapters. This led to me being resentful; I was correcting a lot simple errors that she could/should have known better about. On the flip side, she would get frustrated and tell me my chapters were "too perfect," and she felt left out that she couldn't edit them and "put her mark" on the chapters. (yes, she really actually used those words!)

I was a complete marshmallow; in my quest to maintain our friendship, and because I had experienced her negative reactions to my feedback in the past, I allowed certain parts of the story to be compromised. I regret it now, but am powerless to really back and change much about it since the story has progressed so far. She would give me "feedback" about the chapters I had written, but never accepted any of the feedback I gave her without being petty and temperamental.

A single conflict episode can include multiple types of conflict, or the conflict can evolve. So often what starts out as simple conflict can turn to ego conflict, and nothing moves us there faster than letting emotions get out of control.

Disagreements are subject to a pendulum effect. Imagine the pendulum swinging back and forth. Typically, the motion begins slowly. As momentum builds, so the does the speed of the swinging. The speed causes the pendulum to swing wider with each pass. This is much the same when emotions rise in arguments. As people being talking, they may not have terribly dissimilar perspectives on an issue, but if egos and emotions get involved, peoples’ positions on an issue or an idea swing wider just like the pendulum.

Approaches to Conflict Management

Not everyone handles conflict the same way. Some people view conflict negatively—something to avoid at all costs. Others of us enjoy a challenge and will actively engage every chance we get. Some of the discrepancy is cultural; some is personality. Theorists have identified 5 primary approaches to conflict resolution. Some are generally considered more effective than others, but ultimately, your approach may come down to culture, personal preference, or situational factors.

Avoidance—this is a passive approach to conflict. Avoiders ignore conflict, literally walk away, or pretend that it doesn’t exist. Avoiding will never solve the conflict, but in relationships, sometimes we have to pick our battles and choose the right time and place.

If you know your partner is having a bad week, then avoidance might be a beneficial short term strategy.

Accommodation—when we accommodate, we essentially give into the other person. We meet their needs rather than our own. Again, sometimes for the sake of a relationship, if something isn’t important to us, there is probably little harm in accommodating; however, the main problem is that if you give in, resentment can build after the fact.

Competing—Competitive approaches to conflict involve a win-lose approach. One side will be victorious. There are a few major disadvantages to competing as a means of managing conflict. First, the winning side may not be right; they may simply be louder or better at argumentation. Second, the best answer may not have been either of the options presented. Sometimes, the best solutions fall somewhere in the middle, and by focusing on winning or losing, participants lose the opportunity to discuss alternatives. Third, there is no better way to get emotions flowing than to put people on the spot and suggest they are losing.

Of course, in emergency situations or when stakes some degree of competition may be necessary because we don’t have the time to explore other angles.

Compromise—In U.S. culture, we tend to glamorize compromise as ideal. Each person gives up a little something, and voila, you have a solution. On the positive side, compromise does tend to be faster than some types of conflict management, and most people do feel like they gained something in the process. However, like accommodation, people can eventually feel resentful. If you give up something important, it may haunt you.

There is certainly a time and a place for compromise, even in fic writing, consider what you’re willing to give up carefully before making a decision.

Collaboration—the last approach to conflict is theoretically ideal. Collaboration means participants work together to create a solution that works for everyone. It’s not about giving anything up but building on ideas, thinking outside the box, and coming up with new ideas. The major problem with it is that it’s incredibly time consuming and not easy to do. It requires everyone to be in a problem solving mode. If even one person is thinking more competitively, problems can arise.

For additional information on conflict resolution, please see here.

Communication Tips

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff—we paid homage to this concept in BAT. In all relationships, it is important to ask yourself if what you are arguing about is really important. If letting go is an option, do it. There will be something that drives you nuts about another person (Hello, is anyone here married?). Once you accept that, you’re better off.

2. Check partner’s perceptions—So many pseudo conflicts can be solved from this simple tip. If you don’t know how to take something your partner says, verify the intention. Unfortunately, while we’d all like to be judged by our intentions, no one can guess at them. You can check perceptions multiple ways, but the easiest is to ask. “Here’s what I heard. Is that what you meant?”

3. Manage emotions—since they are such an important player in conflict, always ask yourself, what are you really feeling? So often things come out as anger or an attack when what’s really behind it is hurt or frustration. Be sure you are expressing the emotion you really feel. Further, make sure it is appropriate to expression the emotion. It may be valid to feel something like jealousy, but what do you gain by letting the other person in on it?

4. Clarify your goals—we’ve mentioned this a few times in the series, but unless you both know what you want out of a fic, a chapter, your relationship, conflict can occur. Also, by clarifying goals, it may allow you to do #1. Or it might indicate that it’s time to move on. If one partner wants something the other doesn’t, there doesn’t need to be shame in acknowledging when a relationship is over.

5. Monitor your “nonverbals”—so people can’t see your facial expressions or hear your tone of voice. That means you have to be particularly diligent in how you write ideas. If you tease someone, how do you let that know that it was a joke? Is just putting a smiley face after it acceptable? In some ways internet communication provides an anonymity which results in people saying more than they would in face to face interaction. In fact, we know from research that communication escalates faster in email conversations than interpersonal interactions. Just because we can’t see each other doesn’t mean how you say something isn’t important.

So we went all counselor on you this time…but we want to remind everyone that at the end of the day, this is about fun and friendships. If you don’t have those going, do you really want to be doing this?

That’s all for this round…until next time this it H & T signing off!

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