Former educator teaches ``Fourth R'' to help resolve conflicts


March 08, 1994|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Sun Staff Writer

Richard Solomon still might be teaching at Glen Burnie High School if the world had a little less conflict requiring resolution.

Instead, Dr. Solomon, at age 50, has developed a whole second career of teaching adults how to get along. He and his wife, Elaine, founded the National Institute for Relationship Training in Columbia in 1986. He also helped write three books on what he calls the "Fourth R," relationship skills.

"We feel the Fourth R is fully as important as the other three R's, reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic," says the man whose teaching career began with second-graders. Dr. Solomon has a doctorate in social studies education.

He says, "Relationship skills are fundamental to teaching."

Dr. Solomon teaches with anecdotes, bringing the learner into the process through role playing. The training involves such things as listening ("a very complicated skill"), group cooperative learning and learning to use what Dr. Solomon defines as the four levels of relationship skills, the seven steps of conflict resolution, the three-step interviewing process, the four basic conversational skills and the four refusal skills.

Q: Refusal skills?

A: One of the most intriguing experiences I ever had was working with pregnant teen-age girls in a public school. I taught them refusal skills -- ways to say "no."

Q: How do they work?

A: The "broken record" is a very important first refusal skill. It's the ability to say "no" over and over again when someone is trying to take advantage of you.

The others are called "fogging," "negative inquiry" and "negative assertion."

Q: Give an example of how "broken record" would work.

A: Suppose someone says to me, "Richard, try marijuana."

I say, "I don't do marijuana."

"Aw, come on, Richard, what are you, chicken or something?"

"I don't do marijuana."

"Everyone does marijuana, Richard. What's wrong with you?"

"I don't do marijuana."

Q: How did students react?

A: More than one student said, "Dr. Solomon, I never knew about the 'broken record.' I didn't know how to say 'no.' Every time I said no, I felt guilty."

Q: How do the other refusal skills work?

A: "Fogging" is making a probability statement when someone unfairly criticizes you. We tell people they must know who they are; they must not "own" what other people call them.

If someone unfairly criticizes you, a fogging statement would be, "You're entitled to your opinion," or, "You can see the world anyway you like. I know who I am." "Fogging" is a statement of strength.

"Negative inquiry" means asking the verbal attacker about the basis for attacking you. Suppose someone said to me, "Richard, you're foolish."

I say to that person, "What did I do exactly to cause you to say I'm foolish?" If the attacker can't document it, you dismiss the comment. It changes the power relationship.

The fourth skill is called "negative assertion" -- admitting making a mistake, taking ownership of previous mistakes, saying "I did it once, but I won't do it again."

Q: Who are some of your clients?

A: Police, hospital workers, nursing home workers, people who work in parole and probation, teachers, marriage counselors, corporate workers, parents, students.

Q: What might you do with police, for instance?

A: We try to teach officers how to listen, both for content and for feelings. If a police officer goes into a house and sees the people there ready to attack each other, we'd want the officer to get the people talking about their anger rather than acting on it.

We'd first have to stop these folks from attempting to hurt each other. If that works, we can then move toward brainstorming how to work this thing out.

Q: How do you break down the relationship skills?

A: The levels of the Fourth R are: "Intrapersonal," or "Who am I?"; "Interpersonal," being able to convey your ideas and share feelings with another person; "Group," addressing questions such as, "How do I as an individual get my ideas respected and listened to by others?"; and "Organizational," more sophisticated relational activities.

Q: Why can't people get along?

A: One reason is that many folks have learned anti-social skills -- how to put others down, how to not respect others' point of view. They're really into competition -- being first and someone else being last or second.

It's hard to overcome this. Many institutions want people such as myself to come in and fix a problem immediately when this problem has germinated and developed over many, many years.

Q: What's the philosophy of conflict resolution?

A: People have a right to be angry, but there are constructive ways and destructive ways to handle anger. A constructive way to handle a negative feeling is for one person in a dispute is to articulate it. And then we'd want the person they are disputing with to listen and to paraphrase what first person has said.

Then you reverse the roles. The process continues until both sides understand the nature of the problem.

You and I can never solve a problem if only I perceive there's a problem and you don't. For this to work, we both need to agree there is something that has be resolved.

Q: Have you used conflict resolution skills in your personal life?

A: Absolutely. My wife and I practiced with each other, and when our children were 3 or 4 years old, we taught them.

An example: When Eric was 5 and Lisa was 3 [both now are students at the University of Maryland] and they'd have a big argument, say, over television. I'd say, "OK, Lisa, you go first, tell me the problem. Eric, I want you to be quiet and listen."

Then we'd have them reverse roles and go through the process.

Eventually, what would happen is that when Eric and Lisa would come down to have Elaine or me solve a problem, we'd say, "OK, Lisa, you're here and Eric you're here, let's talk about it."

Then both kids would say, "Never mind, Mom and Dad. We'll both go upstairs and solve the problem ourselves."

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