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Mod. 5 Reflection - Healthy Conflict Management & Looping Conversations

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

This week, I’d like for you to try the looping exercise with at least one person. Try to do it for at least two minutes. In this reflection, I’m curious, what was it like when you looped someone to more deeply understand what they were saying, what they valued, why they feel the way that they do? As an alternative, you can try “The 7 Why” approach, asking “why” seven times to continue to peel away the onion layers. Were there any surprises? Was it awkward? Illuminating? What happened?


This exercise was a great reminder of the value of my ongoing conflict resolution practice. Last fall during a trip with my current partner, he shared an observation about me that I had a degree of self-awareness about, but had never really looked at closely. The basic premise was that he observed that most of my actions are framed in several layers of consideration and thought, and he’d never encountered that before. He said that at times it has been valuable, because it shows the depth of care and consideration I put into my choices, but at others it over complicated seemingly simple choices. The conversation allowed me to walk step by step, why I operate in this way, which aligns closely with “The 7 Why” approach.

As two queer men, my partner and I often discuss the impact that heteronormativity has had on our own understanding of monogamous relationships, particularly when compared to those of our hetero friends. We both share a sense that relationships tend to be “easier” or “simpler” for straight people, particularly when it comes to choosing a partner or spouse. Now, of course these observations are purely based on our own experiences and filled with generalities, but we wanted to figure out if that was actually true and why or why not. What emerged was a checklist comparing the considerations of straight people to queer people, i.e. we get along well, we share values, we are both very attracted to one another, etc.

Those considerations were also shared by queer people, but their list of considerations was almost four times longer than those of straight people. Questions like “Does your family know you’re queer? Are they accepting of you? How long have you been out? Are you out at work? What’s your HIV status? Etc.” While these considerations are not exclusive to queer individuals, straight people certainly experience shades of them in their own right, the reality is that the number of considerations in play at any given time are much greater, varied and nuanced than what *most* straight people experience. I ended up describing this as “If straight people have 5 considerations in a partner that interact with each other simultaneously, queer people have 17.” If that sounds exhausting, it is. But it demonstrates the point and validity for me behind “The 7 Why” approach. When I practiced having a looping conversation with my partner he just said “isn’t this what we always do?” I couldn’t help but laugh when he said that because it’s true. We work very well together because we are committed to being patient and considering the 17 areas in play at any given time that we are both navigating. It takes time, which is the hardest part, but that also teaches us to be more patient with each other.

I will often try out elements of “The 7 Why” approach in various settings, and sometimes it does hit a point where there are no other “whys” left. For me, the biggest challenge is not to judge other people for not having 5, 6, 7 or 17 whys. It doesn’t make people more “simple” it just makes them “people” and all people are different. The charge that I have taken up for myself, much like my takeaway from the conflict resolution exercise, is to work towards meeting people where they are, rather than expecting them to be something or someone they are not, or may never become. I can not stress enough that patience is critical in this effort because even if people appear “simple” or even “over complicated” both are in a constant state of flux and dynamism and I have to remember that people can change, surprise you, and are always in a state of fluidity, whether they or I realize it.

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