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Take Responsibility for Your Part in Conflict

I used to do a lot of marriage counseling, and often one spouse would come in the office and start ranting and raving, "My husband does this …;" "My wife never will do that …;" and it would go on and on. I would sit there thinking, This counseling isn't going to be very effective, because the person who apparently needs to change isn't even in the room. So I would get a pad of paper, draw a circle on it, and say, "This is a pie that represents all the chaos in your marriage. Now, 100 percent of the blame is in that pie, because that's where all the chaos is." I would give them the pen and say, "I want you to draw a slice of pie that you think represents your responsibility for the chaos." The piece of pie that that client would draw was never very big, but I would say, "Okay. So why don't you and I talk about just this. Let's talk about this piece that is your responsibility. Let's talk about your slice." You know what? My approach never worked. I could never get anybody to stay on his or her slice of the pie.

So here is what I want you to do this week: As you experience relational conflict at work, at home, with your friends—any conflict of any sort, big or small—stop and think about your own slice of the pie. Ask yourself, What is in my slice of the pie? Have I taken responsibility for my life, really, or am I enjoying the blame game so much that it has allowed me to ignore what I am ultimately responsible for?

In any relationship, if you can ever get the two parties to own their piece of the pie, you can make progress. But if everybody is focused on the other person's slice of the pie, you will just have chaos.

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