The biggest single issue that I see in my practice is ineffective communication. Families, couples, small groups, teams, and individuals all struggle with conflicts resulting from ineffective communication.
In my undergraduate program I focused my work on sociology and the interface of sociology, literature, history, and developmental psychology. I read dozens of books on existentialism and paradigm shifting. These books had a profound effect on formalizing my attitude toward communication and interaction between people.
One book in particular was transforming in how it addressed the process of attitude and belief change: Thomas Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. In my Master’s in Counseling Program I was trained as a Gestalt therapist and wrote an independent study thesis on Phenomenology. In my Master’s in Business Administration Program and later in my Master’s in Oriental Medicine program I continued to focus on how to view various paradigms from within their own structure as well as in relation to other structures.
My focus in training has honed my ability to view situations from both a figure and a ground perspective. Allowing me to view the conflicts and miscommunications in relationships and interactions as just that misunderstandings and disconnects. Often when I have a couple, or parent and child, in front of me in my office I find that each is telling the truth about the problems in the situation even though neither is able to see the other’s point of view. The issue is from what paradigm or perspective they are arguing. If they are each focusing on different things they feel very assured they are right while unable to understand the other person’s point or communication.
That’s why my first goal in communication skills training is connecting not assessing right/wrong. Since both are right from their own perspective and wrong from the other perspective the latter focus doesn’t allow for resolution. Only through a focus on increasing connection or understanding will the two individuals or group find resolution and solutions to their conflicts.
A foundational component to paradigm shifting and Gestalt therapy is the concept of figure/ground. Figure focuses on the specific issue, situation, and ground focuses on the background information. In example, figure is the words and ground is the tone, tenor, and unspoken information.
(I’m going to upload a couple of pictures and talk about how to see the figure and ground in the picture as well as what it may mean about you. If you are looking at this on your phone you may not be able to see the images. These are worth viewing.)
Figure ground illusion images:
Figure A. The ground in Black – two faces
and the figure in white – a wine glass.
In Figure B Is a right/left paradigm shift; right facing – bunny, left pointing – duck.
There is a tendency to see either one or the other consistently when you first see the picture then after you learn about the other image in most situations you can go back and forth between the figure and ground.
I recently found a very cool way of looking at the concept of paradigm shifting by looking at a set of words and grouping them.
Let’s do that with this group of words:
axe, log, shovel, saw
Group them into the three words that go together and the one that doesn’t.
If you chose log that doesn’t belong then you are looking at grouping them into tools and non-tool.
If you chose shovel as the one that doesn’t belong then you are looking at the log, saw and axe as connected by their function to each other – the log can be cut by the axe and saw but what can you do to it with the shovel?
It turns out that industrialized country citizens tend to see the first paradigm and individuals from countries like China and Russia tend to group them in the latter fashion. If you saw that there were two answers right away before I gave you the information you have an affinity for seeing both points of view and are probably great at mediating and conflict resolution. Seeing the relationships among these words is a paradigm affected by your environment, upbringing, and your basic nature.
Paradigm shifting, and Gestalt figure/ground as applied to communication, team building and parenting is a way of increasing understanding between and among individuals to increase creativity, connection, and conflict resolution. Think about how often in a close relationship you or the other person feels misheard or misunderstood because of the part of the communication you or they are focused – figure or ground.
That’s why it’s always so important to question what was heard when you feel you are in a conflict that you didn’t intend.
Hope you had fun with this.
See you tomorrow.
January 28, 2010 at 7:49 pm
Yes, Beth. I agree wholeheartedly that most effective win/win situation creating communication is being able to understand what the other person is saying, acknowledging it and seeing/feeling how it fits/connects with what it is I am communicating. you can have the best bridge built by the smartest, cleverest engineers and hardest working construction crew in the world, but if there’s a big gap at the center of the bridge, it won’t work.
January 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm
Thanks for your comment Miguel! Beth
February 1, 2010 at 3:29 am
Communication can certainly make life easier and more productive. But if you’re talking about people ‘staying together’, the two most important reasons I’ve seen are 1: two people who strongly Believe that they Should stay together and 2: two people who deeply fear living apart.
February 1, 2010 at 3:32 am
Dave you have some interesting insights and comments. Thanks. Beth