Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Change the World!

Originally posted on March 7, 2013

I confess that I think that if people could use just a few techniques developed originally in psychodrama, it would indeed change the world! Let’s not argue yet; consider first some of the following:

Admit Ambivalence

People will not only seem more authentic to others, but will be able to work with mixed feelings or conflicting thoughts more actively if they don’t feel obliged to choose prematurely. So I imagine in a potential conflict or ambiguous situation, a person says something like, “Part of me feels (or thinks) ….xxx…,  while there’s this other part of me that feels / thinks …yyyy. And there’s even a third part that thinks …qqqq. And I confess I am unsure which to choose or how to integrate them. I could use your input.” If people readily opened to having conflicting viewpoints or desires, needs or concerns, it could make working out problems less like an argument and more like a joint problem-solving process.

Invite Imaginative Scenarios

I imagine people saying, “Okay, I want to be your friend, but I don’t know what to say. Help me out.  What would be the most helpful thing for me to do or say?” or “Picture the best response I could make as if it were a scene in your imagination.” Often what the other person asks for is something that the speaker is most ready to give, but he didn’t know exactly how to phrase it.

A variation would be to ask openly, “What present could I get you that you really want?” This cuts through is the insane usually unconscious and fairly common fantasy that, “If you really loved me you’d know what I want and I wouldn’t have to either think about it (lazy) or let my guard down and be vulnerable by admitting what I wanted (defensive).” And at another level, also common, is this unspoken attitude: “Of course since only very rarely do I get exactly what I  want without saying what it is precisely, I get to feel hurt, that folks don’t care, don’t understand, and that frees me up to maintain my safe defensiveness: “See, you didn’t really really love me enough to read my subconscious mind.” Alas, this tragically unnecessary dynamic is still prevalent and people generally don’t even know they’re feeling-doing it to each other.
Asking to Try It Again

This also implies that a person is aware that s/he may not deliver a message or ask a question with so it’s taken the way it is intended. So if the other person doesn’t respond positively, the first person asks if the previous comment may be tried again, said or asked differently. It’s an admission of slight vulnerability, as if one isn’t sure that what is done will work perfectly.

In fact, our first attempt to communicate understanding or concern or offer some constructive response often is not exactly what the other person wants to hear. Sometimes it’s just in the look or tone of voice, or wording. They don’t know what’s wrong. So the person who notices a slight friction or disconnect can comment on this and ask if it might be tried again differently. The request suggests, first, that relationship and the feelings of the person to whom the comment was addressed are more important than what was said. Second, there’s an element of willingness to say things differently—folks don’t expect that. It’s an admission of slight vulnerability, but that empowers the person being spoken to. There’s also a very subtle hint at playfulness—not frivolity so much as flexibility. An element of the rehearsal dynamic in theatre is introduced: “Let me try saying it a couple of ways… and you tell me which works better.”  (Inserting choices as role plays). Or, if something doesn’t sound right to the other party, the other party says, “That didn’t feel right. Let’s find another way you might say that (or ask that).”

A variation is when something is said, the other person scowls rather than smiles appreciatively. The first person says, “Hm, that didn’t come out right. Please may I take it over?” The key point is that if you ask nicely and as a matter of fact, you’re making yourself vulnerable and admitting that communications are a little difficult for you. Well, truth is they’re difficult for everyone, but you need not say that. So by shifting into a context or frame where you can try again you are making the words slightly playful, able to be said differently. This is refreshing and disarming.

Role Reversal

What a world-changer it would be if people as they felt themselves getting into a disagreement would pull back and say, “Help me see your point of view.” They might continue: “Okay, I’ll warm up to being you and you be the coach so that I finally get it right. Let me make some mistakes and you correct me without becoming impatient. Know that I’m trying. We’ll get there together.” What is implied is, “When I can see your viewpoint in a way that you feel that I’ve really tried to look, not to win, not to mock, but to understand, I’ll be less defensive and more ready to negotiate.”

In my best dreams I imagine the other people—a romantic partner, spouse, family member, friend, respond, “Say, would you teach me to do that technique—what do you call it? Role reversal?  Yeah, let’s do that together. Now you’ve done it for me, I want to see your viewpoint, too.”


This is just a tiny edge of all the ways people could use a touch of the drama to lubricate relationships. Just knowing that there are these techniques, that they’re possible, changes everything!

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