Where there are two human beings, there are struggles over whose wants and needs will be met.  Survival of the fittest. Winners and losers.  This is how the game is played.  Or so it seems.        

Conflict resolution

Conflict is temporarily resolved when one of the following occurs:

  • You dominate.
  • You give in.
  • You compromise/call a truce.

Forget compromise

Most of us believe in compromise - the harmony achieved when two sides work together toward a common goal.  In reality, satisfying compromise is practically impossible to achieve.  Examples:  Wall Street v. The 99%.  Republicans v. Democrats.  The Vatican v. The Nuns.   

True harmony exists only among the naturally like-minded.  Despite the "sing cumbaya" expectations set by conventional wisdom, compromise does not feel like "win-win."  Most of the time, compromise feels like going to your knees before someone who gets the lion's share of what you want.  Emotionally, compromise goes in the "loss" column and fuels determination to "win" next time.  To summarize the scant research in this realm:  Women are only slightly less likely than men to perceive "compromise" as losing   So, forget compromise.  


No, this is not about relying upon ruthlessness to get what you want.  This is about dominating your own negative emotions and NOT getting the last word.   This is about knowing the secret: The first one to take command of negative emotions wins!  

Some react to this idea as an "ah-ha" moment.  Recently, one of my clients reacted this way: "That needs to be tatooed somewhere." 

Others have a couple of questions:

How does dominating your own negative emotions equal winning a power struggle?

Call to mind the last time you struggled to get what you wanted from a spouse/parent/sibling/ friend/coworker.  Maybe you wanted them to step up and get busy or maybe you felt the need to be cut some slack.  It probably started out as an attempt to negotiate a compromise.  Then somebody felt threatened and began venting negative emotions.  

Even if you don't recall the particulars of the argument, you remember the outcome.  Nothing accomplished.  No winners.  Two losers.  And fresh resentments.

Next time, win!  Be the first to take command of negative emotions.

  • Interrupt the back-and-forth of the power struggle.  By interrupting the vent-fest, you gain control of the interaction.
  • You are calm and collected, while the other person remains a little over-the-top.
  • You "win" because your opponent must chose between following your example or continuing to vent negative emotions.
  • People tend to stop venting, when they have no one with whom to exchange verbal blows.
  • You rescue yourself (and your opponent) from destructive habits of interaction.
  • You limit your exposure to destructive fight-or-flight hormones.

How does one go about taking command of negative emotions?

  • Utilize your brain's mechanisms for inhibiting negative emotions.
  • Put your rational mind back in charge.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

For more specifics, see previous posts: The Four Keys to Responding Constructively and Not Giving In and How to Train Your Dragon. 

You CAN fight human nature

At the most primitive level, humans follow the drive to dominate in order to survive. So, the power struggle cannot end. Every truce is conditional.  Despite outward appearances, the strategizing to even up the score or to gain advantage goes on.  You can, however, put your rational mind to work, win the next round, and model constructive coping with the endless power struggle.      


About the Author

Christine Meinecke, Ph.D.

Christine Meinecke, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and author of Everybody Marries the Wrong Person.

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