Journaling can be a powerful tool in preparing for a formal conflict resolution process or an informal or personal problem solving process. It helps with understanding rollercoaster emotions and inner turmoil, broadens perspectives, and gives a broader picture for solution-based thinking. If you are journaling personal issues, thoughts and feelings, be sure to not only journal negative thoughts, feelings and challenges. Be sure to counteract every negative with a solution that looks at all perspectives of an issue -- yours and the perspectives of other persons involved. Not only should you list your concerns and feelings, but the old saying of "count your blessings" is good mental health.

Positive solution-based problem solving using journaling as a tool is very effective. Journaling can help sort out your emotions before you need to articulate your needs and concerns, and positions.  It will help you articulate solutions that others may be more receptive to helping everyone reach what is called the "win-win" in conflict resolution..

Combat negative thinking! It is nonproductive. As a matter of fact, we recommend that people counteract every negative thought with something good -- at least better!  It may not change the facts of a situation, but it broadens perspective.

We can, and should, monitor how our thought processes are affecting our perceptions.  It is akin to the effect a sunny day may have versus a cloudy day. It has an effect on our outlook. The weather does not usually change important things in our lives for better or worse, but somehow, when the sun is shining life appears a little brighter.

All of the following journaling approaches have common veins: (1) Understanding yourself (2) Understanding others (3) Using resources to address challenges (4) Working through solutions.The journaling approaches serve as a prelude to the Ten Step Problem Solving Process.  The Ten Step Problem Solving Process is an effective prelude to effective dialogue in joint problem solving.

Two Step Journaling process

Step One: "What Question Strategy."

  • What you feel in single words or short, concrete sentences.
  • What are your concerns and your needs?
  • Who are the persons involved?  What might be their feelings, concerns and needs?
  • What boundaries do you need to set for yourself? What boundaries have been crossed by others and what boundaries have you crossed?
  • What areas do you have control over?  What areas are beyond your control?
  • What are you willing to do to change a situation?
  • Are there areas you are not taking responsibility for?  Are there areas another is not taking responsibility for and how is it affecting you?

Step Two: Journaling Solutions.

  • Make a list of the challenges you are facing.
  • Make a list of the challenges another is facing.
  • What challenges do you have in common and what challenges are at odds?
  • Make a list of the positive things in the situation for you and for others.
  • Make a list of how how you can utilize the positive aspects to overcome or resolve the challenges.

Fear Buster Strategy

  • List the worst possible thing that could happen.
  • List the best thing that could happen.
  • Ask yourself if the extremes are likely or unlikely.
  • Ask yourself what is likely to happen.
  • If the worst possible is a likely possibility, make a plan for managing it.
  • If the best things is likely, how will affect others?
  • Are your motivations selfish or reasonable?
  • Where will it benefit the other person as well as yourself.
  • If your thought processes are unreasonable, where do you need to make it reasonable?
  • Be sure to address an "what if this happens" concerns.
  • Make at least three possible solutions or plans for addressing your fears and concerns.
  • Write out the advantages and disadvantages for every person the plan involves.

Circle Strategy

  • Make three large circles
  • First Circle: What areas do you have control over?
  • Second Circle: What areas are outside of your control; what areas are outside of anyone's control and have to be simply accepted
  • Look at how the circles are affecting you
  • Third Circle: List 3-6 solutions to every challenge you see in your circles.
Ten Step Paper Problem Solving Process

1. Write a one paragraph overview of the overall conflict.

  • We will use this example over an overall conflict to model the ten step process: "We cannot agree on a parenting time schedule."

2. Chunk it down into manageable parts. List the needs and challenges, starting with yours and working to each person involved. (Do you see an advantage in using a "What Question approach first?)

  • Examples of list of needs: The needs of the children; needs of each parent; needs of a step-parent; needs of grandparents.
  • Examples of list of challenges: A parent works shifts; parent does not work a regular work pattern; parents live a long distance apart; a parent works more than one job (Do you see an advantage of using "The Circles Approach?")

3.  Separately list relational layers from the material layers. (See "Conflict is Never Easy" Article)

  • Example: Relational: There is a history of constant fighting. Parents cannot communicate. Or a strength, parents are able to communicate. Parents are able to put the needs of the children first.
  • Material: How are parents going to best utilize the time they have with their children while working with the challenges? What is the plan for sharing child rearing responsibilities?

4. Think through the emotions that may be driving the conflict.

  • Example:  Fear: If I admit my job is creating a challenge, I may be viewed as not as capable to care for my children.  If we change our parenting schedule to meet the challenges, I will end up with less than 45.01% of the time with my children and I will pay more child support. If we work with our work schedules, I'll never see my children. Anger:  He/she is willing to change work schedules now, but was not while we were married.  I was always straddled with all the responsibilities.  What is his/her motives in trying to be a super mom/dad now?

5.  Sort through the facts and get all needed information to make informed decisions.

  • Example:  Can work schedules be changed? Is one parent willing to move closer? Are parents willing to transport? What are the work schedules? Is there a time or season when compensatory parenting time can be put in place for missed time? If there is a substantial change in parenting time, will it affect custody or child support? If so, how?

6. Address your fears. (Use the "Fear Buster")

7. Set the boundaries.

  • Example:  Material layer: We are willing to implement Right of First Request.  We are willing to have certain people care for our children while we are working, but I have concern about these people caring for our children.  I am willing to change schedules if I can utilize summer vacation time or layoff to reconnect with our children. Relational layer:  I will not be yelled at or demeaned or blamed for situations beyond my control. I am willing to take the children under the Right of First Request parameters, and I will be flexible in changing schedules to meet the needs of our children, as long as I am respected by being given adequate notice and the right to say no if I have other plans.

8. Examine your expectations.

  • Example: What are you expecting from each other; Are the expectations workable, fair and reasonable?

9.  Establish a common goal or objective that will likely be agreed upon.

  • Example:  We can both agree that our children need quality time with both of us.  We both can agree that it is in our best interests, and particularly in our children's best interests, to lessen childcare needs so they can spend more time with us.

10. Make three plans. Label them A, B and C.

  • Be prepared to state why each plan addresses the needs of all involved; how it addresses the challenges and best uses resources; what future circumstances need to be addressed.

If you use these journaling approaches, you will be more prepared to confront an issue and enter into dialogue or joint problem solving processes, even when communication is strained.  You will be better able to keep your focus and stay calm when the going becomes difficult.  If you are requested to go into mediation, you will be prepared to work towards resolution.  Time spent ahead of time will increase your chances of a fair and acceptable resolution to all the issues.


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