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Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Art Therapy 6: Confrontational Communication

It is inevitable that we will have to confront people in this life. How we do it determines whether we damage our relationship with that person, or whether we create a platform for future open and honest communication. The topic of communication is too wide and diverse to hope to address all the issues in one short blog, but we will take a hard look at some common communication mishaps in today's blog when we invite the person we want to confront to sit down for a cup of coffee.

You can choose your own preferred surface for today's project, but I will be doing mine on a white 12"x12" paper to add to my wellness journal. I will be using some heavy paint on this paper. This means that it is necessary for me to prepare the paper to withstand the wet paint. If I leave the plain 80 gsm paper, same weight as normal printer paper, untreated, the paper may tear when I paint it. This is why I give the paper a coat of Dala Gesso, which I allow to dry before continuing. It is always a good idea to prepare yourself mentally for a confrontation as well. Give yourself a mental coat of gesso to safeguard yourself from getting hurt.
How will you prepare yourself for a confrontation?
What are the things that make you feel more secure?
What are the things that make you feel vulnerable?
How can you bring some of the things that make you feel secure into your plan for the day, e.g. do you have something you can wear that gives you confidence? Is there someone you would like to think about when you do this? Do you need to double-check your facts? Do you need to remind yourself of the implications, such as what you could loose if you did not have this talk? Is there someone who would believe that you what you are doing is the right thing to do? If so, who is it? Why would that person agree with you that it is the right thing to do?
What makes you feel vulnerable that you would need to try and avoid during the confrontation e.g. locations to meet that could make you feel uncomfortable? Perhaps being late? Or per chance your feeling extremely stressed?   

Once the gesso is touch dry, I can start my drawing. Don't be bothered with the buckling paper. As the gesso dries completely the paper will pull straight again and lie flat. In the meantime, I start by drawing a quarter of a round table as viewed from above in the bottom right corner of my paper. I also draw a semicircle for the seat of my chair as it protrudes from the table. I want to invite someone to sit down with me at this table so we can talk things out, but first I need to prepare the table. This is also symbolic of you preparing yourself for the confrontational communication.

This conversation may take a while and I want to be comfortable during that time. That is why I add a back to my chair to lean back on. It is a good idea when confronting someone not to lean too forward in your chair, as you may come across as being aggressive. Leaning back on the back of the chair makes for more relaxed body language and conversation.
How would you feel on the receiving side of this conversation? Put yourself in the other person’s seat for a while and check the body language that would offend you and ask yourself why it would be offensive to you? What body language would convey that you are open for communication and open for listening?

What is essential to this conversation is a cup of coffee. I draw the cup from my elevated point of view. This perspective is not an accidental one. I am not drawing myself seated in the chair. I am not ready to sit down in that chair yet. I am hovering in the air somewhere above this table as I am preparing for the conversation. This gives me the necessary distance to keep an open mind and to be less involved. The time to get involved will come later.

I draw a saucer for my cup next to the mug. Things are not in order on this table. The cup is not neatly arranged on the saucer. The people at this table has a history and the arrangement of the crockery depicts that. I also need a spoon. This spoon has been used to stir with and I place it neatly back in the saucer. The purpose of this blog is to find a way to confront someone in a way that will not leave a permanent blemish on the relationship. That is why I don't want marks on my table either.

I think of other things that can normally be found on the table when I go for coffee. My glasses usually find a spot on the table, be they reading glasses, dark glasses, or glasses for nearsightedness. At some point, there is likely to be a pair of glasses to be found on the table. This is good for our blog as well. We have come to look an issue in the eye, and to look at it without any hindrances, such as shortsightedness. Another item you are likely to find on a coffee table is a cell phone. I like the idea of including this as well. It is a reminder that no matter how tough things get, I have a support system to fall back on. I am not alone in this matter, even though I may be sitting at the table on my own.
You could make a list of the people that form your support network if you felt it would help to make you feel better prepared for the task at hand.

Lastly, I am reminded of those annoying paper sachets that hold the sugar. It is fine while they are full, but once they are empty I want them out of my way. I deliberately draw them on the table. This is a reminder that we are not drinking a bitter cup here. We will choose our words carefully to sweeten the deliverance, even if the content is not to our liking. Most of these sugar paper sachets have nice and sometimes thought provoking quotes on them. We will keep the symbolic value of the sugar and the valuable words on these paper sachets in mind when choosing our words carefully to sweeten the deliverance.

With my charcoal sketch drawn, I now use a clean brush to wipe away the dark lines so that only soft and feint lines are visible. This is a practical step. If I don't wipe the excess charcoal away, my paint will mix with it and appear muddy. It also holds symbolic value. Initially, when the need for confrontation arose, the issue seemed harder and more clearly defined. Having allowed time to lapse, has softened the edges of the issue and though it is still clear that it needs addressing, the outline has become softer.
What symbolic charcoal do you need to wipe away before you can have an effective conversation?

I will largely be using Dala Craft Paint for the project and I gather my true colors as well as ones that I have mixed in previous projects. Suddenly I find symbolism in this as well. We have natural abilities, our true colours, that help us cope with difficulties. Yet, having gained some life experience, we probably also have a set of acquired skills, mixed colours, that come in handy at times like these.
What skills do you have that can help you in this conversation?
What do people close to you say, what are your strong points when it comes to these kinds of situations?

What has work for you in previous conversations you've had that were similar to this?

I choose to paint my coffee cup and saucer a bright Red. I mix the red with white to define the highlighted areas on the circles. I like red because it is a warm and inviting colour and I want the person I invite to sit down with me not to feel threatened, but warm and welcome.
What would you need to do, or perhaps refrain from doing, to create a warm and welcoming setting when you have the intended confrontation?

I then paint the coffee in my cup a delicious tan brown that I've mixed myself. This is brilliant, as the conversation we will be having at this table will also be one that I have brewed myself.

I paint the spoon in the saucer Duck Egg, which is a much cooler colour. I can either paint the spoon a warm colour and stir up trouble with it, or I can paint it a cool colour and stir in sugar to sweeten the conversation and cool heated arguments down with.
These colour choices are very symbolic and it is important that you choose the ones that are appropriate for you!

My cell phone is also painted a warm mix of colours with the screen and buttons painted in a cool colour. The cell represents the people who love me and care for me and therefore I need this in warm colours. As I have no immediate need for them in my life, the buttons and screen are cold.

This means that the glasses will also be painted in warm colours as I want to see a bright and friendly outcome for this confrontation. Take note of the difference; we are not looking through rose-colored glasses, but we are looking for a preferred outcome.

Lastly I paint the sugar sachets in a neutral brown to match my coffee. They will go well together.

At this stage I am ready to paint my tablecloth a bright sunny Custard Yellow in the spirit of being inviting and welcoming.

My chair is painted in Burnt Orange, yet another warm colour.

I now draw a dividing line for the floor and wall in charcoal. What would be the dividing line (turning point) for you? What would be the point where you would know that the conversation has gone well?

The excess charcoal is once again brushed away with a clean dry brush.

I then paint the floor a cool Duck Egg. This restores some visual balance to my scene, as well as to give myself and my guest a place to 'cool our feet' when things get heated. Balance is an important concept here, both in the conversation, as well as in the expected outcome.

When I paint the walls, I switch to Dala Blackboard Paint. Often in coffee shops, you will find the menus written in chalk on blackboards around the room. We will do the same in our coffee shop. Just like in a real life coffee shop, our menu can change as we too, will be using chalk and a blackboard to write it on.

When entering a conversation there are issues and emotions that need to be addressed. When I write my menu on the wall, my list includes words like hurt, revenge, tit for tat, anger, hate, getting my own back, un-forgiveness and loathing. These are words and sentiments dished up in a confrontational showdown where we do not take the time to weigh our words. In therapy you will often hear how important it is to come to terms with something. Literally interpreted, that means to find words to attach to something. However, those words need to be the appropriate ones to have healing value. If we find mismatching words, they can not have the desired restorative qualities we are searching for.

With our table ready and the menu written, I take the roll of waitress. I arrive at the table with a notebook and pen in hand, ready to take the order.

I now want you to write the conversation down from your emotions. Don't think about it. Don't be careful about choosing your words. Simply write anything and everything that comes to mind. Here we are still looking for the 'raw' version of the confrontation. I wrote a list of starting sentences that may assist in getting you on your way:
You always ...
You never ...
Your hateful actions ...
Your destructive behaviour ...
I will never ...
There is no chance ...
I hate you because ...
You are loathsome ...
I will never forgive ...
You will be sorry that ...
How could you ...
How dare you ...
What were you thinking ...

Those are fighting words, aren't they? They fit the menu we wrote on the board. Yet, we came to this blog with one thing in mind and that is to save the relationship. This menu and those words will not achieve the desired results. That is why I start by wiping the slate clean on my menu. I will work on that list before returning to this menu. Having worked on that list, I will know better what I want to include in my menu.

Let's start with those hyperboles on the list. Right at the top of the list I used the word 'always'. Is it really always? Would it not be more appropriate to replace the word with 'sometimes'? Perhaps even 'once', or maybe 'a couple of times'. A hyperbole is an obvious exaggeration and confrontations has no room for exaggerations.

We will now correct ourselves. I used a red pen as it stands out clearly, but you may choose to do your corrections in the colour of your choice. Bear in mind that we are correcting our choice of words, not judging ourselves for the 'wrong' words we have chosen. Remember that we are working on a draft, and by rewording it, we are simply improving on it. Without a draft, there would be no room for improvement. Identify all of the hyperboles in your own list. Circle them and replace them with more accurate or preferred terms that do not exaggerate the situation.

For the next step, I focus on emotive words and expressions. Emotive words are the ones laden with emotion. In my list they include words such as hateful, destructive, loathsome, etc.

Identify all of the emotive words in your own list. Try to rephrase sentences or to replace the words with more appropriate ones. I took the words 'hateful actions' and rephrased it to be more specific: When you ________, I felt betrayed/hurt/angry, etc. Can you see that the words 'hateful actions' did not clarify anything and could only be interpreted as an attack? This is not conducive to constructive confrontations.

In the third step we identify the words that points to the other party. I used the word 'You' four times in my list and the word 'Your' was used twice. These words are often the leading words to accusations and attacks on the person. Try not to attack the person you are confronting with your words. And refrain from getting personal. A personal attack can be found in my list where I use the words 'You are loathsome". A more constructive way of confronting a person would be to rephrase, for instance, I could say: What you did was hurtful. It belittled me and it did not consider my feelings. Check your own list for attacks and accusations and try rephrasing them. Be specific where possible. Remember that this is a training exercise that has the ability to improve your conversation skills.

Now that I know where I want the conversation to lead, I am ready to write a new menu on the wall. This time my list includes words like heal, restore, forgive, truth, repair, love, turn the other cheek, stick to the facts, rise above, grow.

Looking at this table and the menu behind it, doesn't it seem like a better one than the one we started from?

I am now ready to rewrite the list I want to include in my confrontational conversation. I wrote this sample to give you an idea where to start your own conversation:
I was hurt when you ___, because I felt belittled. It appeared as if you did not respect me. You have repeated this same behaviour on ___ occasions. I wonder if you could try to put yourself in my position to see things from my point of view."
Feel free to repeat this exercise as often as may seem necessary.

By the time this new list is written, you will find yourself a much happier waiter, excited to place the new order at the kitchen. This is sustenance for the soul!

Melette Els (Clinical Social Work) can be contacted via the webpage, or by email at, or by phone at 082 776 1536.
Melette Els B.A. (SocSc) M. (Th) 
BHF Pr Nr.: 089 000 00 28754 SACSSP Reg.Nr.: 10-17310

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy the books here:
You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
Jy kan Kom Ons Teken en Verf Tuinstories hier koop.
Jy kan Kom Ons Kleur Tuinstories In hier koop.
Jy kan Tuinstories hier koop.
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