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posted on the Netdynam mailing list 6/96; revised 4/97
copyright 1996, 2005 by Tracy Marks   
Boston area psychotherapist and Internet trainer

Feeling hurt or angry after reading an email message from friend, family member, colleague or online acquaintance? Here are twelve guidelines for conflict resolution via email - many of them also useful for in-person relationships. If your conflict is occurring between you and another member in an online group, deal with the conflict outside of the group.

1. Clarify the INTENT of your communication. Is it primarily to justify yourself or are you seeking resolution with the other party? Can you do both?

2. Try to maintain AWARENESS of the other person on the receiving end, and the effect your communication is likely to have upon him or her. Attempt to be conscious of both SELF and OTHER as you write.

3. Write as DIRECTLY and clearly as possible. Consider how the other person might misinterpret your language, and take more time to explain thoughts that might easily be misinterpreted.

4. If the other person understands them, use EMOTICONS or other forms of Internet shorthand (such as <grin> <frown> <wink) if doing so helps clarify your communication. Sometimes, using emoticons (such as  :-)  for smiling, or  :-(  for frowning) understood by both parties can help lighten the interaction, and ease the conflict.

If the other person doesn't understand the emoticon, you can still use it - just indicate  its meaning!  (For a list and description of recommended emoticons, see recommended emoticons  page).

5. Establish some EMPATHIC resonance with the other person first
....agreeing or joining him in his thoughts or feelings, before moving
away and further explaining your point of view. Don't start by
putting him on the defensive. Let him know you hear him.

6. Be aware that due to your personal history, and the fears or desires that you hold in regard to the other person, that you may misinterpret his or her message. If you're not sure about his or her meaning or intent, communicate your confusion. ASK before you make assumptions which may not be accurate, and before you treat those assumptions as if they are fact.

7. Take RESPONSIBILITY for your part in the conflict, and try to find and express the part of yourself that generally regrets the role you played, and wishes to meet the other halfway. If you know you are overreacting, acknowledge it (and the past baggage you carry). APOLOGIZE...honestly and sincerely.

8. DON'T HIT below the belt. If you know the other person's vulnerabilities, stay away from them, as tempted as you may feel to score a bullseye. If you need to do so, write a long email message targetting the other person headon, then delete it...or bitch to your offline friends. Don't send a response until you have at least some investment in ending the battle, rather than merely intensifying it.

9. If you need TIME to work through your raw feelings or clarify your reactions and thoughts or to feel ready to communicate openly with the other person, take the time. Take as long as you need. If you can. Let the other person know you need time out to process, and will return when you've cooled off and are ready to engage in a real attempt at resolution.

10. Don't get lost in the content of the argument. Stay close to how you feel and how the other person feels. Aim to heal the hurt or angry FEELINGS rather than change the other's perception of reality. He/she may not be able to see your point of view.

11. If a part of you seeks the other person's validation, take the time with yourself to VALIDATE yourself, and let go of attachment to their response. If you need some validation from others before you can do such letting go, then communicate with a friend who is not involved in the conflict and seek validation from him or her.

12. Know when to LET GO. You may not be able to change another person's perceptions or interpretations of a situation, and may have to validate yourself or look for validation elsewhere if the other person can't fully grasp your point of view. Aim to ACCEPT your differences and your separateness, to let go of the issue, to say, "Ok, this is my experience, and this is yours, and we're not going to get anywhere by pursuing this further. We have different perceptions and memories. So I'll allow you to exist with a different reality than my own reality, and hopefully we can both move on...."

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: Thanks to the listmembers of  NetDynam,
and especially Roy Winkler, for inspiring the above guidelines.

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