Building Healthy Relationships and Collaborative working meeting discussing conflict and story telling

Conflict and Story Telling

James Hourihan, Author

Human History

Throughout much of human history, storytelling has been one of the primary methods for passing information from generation to generation.  Each generation, however, retells these stories through their own perceptual filters, often changing the story slightly to reflect current societal conditions (Harari, 2018). 

Dr. John Gottman, a psychologist and researcher in family relations, often begins marriage therapy sessions by asking each person to tell the origin story of their relationship (Gottman, 1995).  He’s not really looking for the actual origin story, though; he’s using how each person tells the story to gauge the current health of their relationship.  Just as stories change throughout history, the story of the origin of a relationship can change throughout the span of the relationship.  The parties in the relationship will tell the story through their current perceptual filters.


How we tell stories to others and ourselves has a profound impact on how we perceive the world around us.  When engaged in conflict resolution, the way that a person tells the story of the conflict gives much information about the health of relationships within the conflict.  Often, stories of conflict between people with unhealthy relationships are stories of avoidance, unhealthy competition, or accommodation. 

Healthy Relationships

The stories of conflict told by people with healthy relationships more often reflect collaboration and compromise (Thomas & Kilman, 1974).  At Timian, we believe that incidents can be resolved in a way that maintains and builds healthy relationships.  To do this, people must be able to objectively evaluate the facts of the conflict and authentically communicate the emotions of the conflict.  This requires that conflicted parties practice empathy, while using perception checking and problem-solving skills to resolve the conflict in a way that shows dignity and respect for all parties involved.  These are topics we cover in all of our training. When this is done, the story is often of how positive conflict resolution steps lead to stronger relationships.

John Windsor– Senior Trainer

Gottman, J. (1995). Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: and how you can make yours last. Simon & Schuster.

Harari, Y. N. (2018). Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. Harper Perennial.

Thomas, K.W., Kilman, R.H.(1974). Thomas-Kilman conflict mode instrument. Xicom: Tuxedo, NY.

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