In a recent blog post, we introduced the concept of the conflict escalator. It is that sense all of us have had as a conflict just keeps getting more intense in feelings and word and we aren’t sure how to stop it. As we described in that post and teach in our Conflict Escalates lesson, it really is important to learn to recognize the signs of a conflict getting worse so that you can then use your skills to stop that escalation.
Slowing Down the Escalator Using I Messages is the next lesson in our Resolving Conflict Creatively theme, and the next step in the process. We know that I messages occasionally get a bum rap as artificial and stilted, but done correctly, and only when needed, they can be very, very effective. Using them to de-escalate a conflict is a life skill, which will help your students in and out of school.
This lesson is also a great example of why our whole curriculum is arts based. Doing a worksheet on I messages might teach students the grammatical form, but engaging in a role play surfaces the emotions that come with conflict. Short dramas like these help children and teens match their facial expressions and other body language to their words in ways that communicate authenticity, which is so important for this skill to work. Any hint of sarcasm or manipulation – verbally or non-verbally – will have the absolute opposite effect of escalating the conflict even further. Acting this out, like singing about it, often creates revelations for students about their own behaviors, which they might not otherwise have experienced.
We also love the way this lesson ends by teaching students to use the same format for positive messages. Using an I message to slow down a conflict as a step toward resolving it is powerful, but telling someone exactly what makes you feel valued, safe, and respected is at least as important in preventing conflict. Sometimes we manage to resolve conflicts by describing what we don’t want, but then skip the step of identifying what we do want, which leaves the other person in a state of uncertainty. Taking both steps gives us a fighting chance (pun intended) in preventing the next conflict over the same situation.
As always, you help us make these lessons better by sharing your experiences with us. Please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell you how this lesson works (or doesn’t!) in your classroom or post your stories to our Facebook page.