CONFLICT. If only we could all do this better.
Conflict is something that we all encounter - and it's a pretty normal human behaviour, yet we all muck it up from time to time. When it's not well managed, it blows up big-time, and can be so damaging, to couples, families, communities and even countries. Maybe we can't change what goes on at a macro-level, such as between countries. But we can certainly look at how we do this closer to home - such as with our kids, our partners, and our parents, and of course with our colleagues and friends. This can make our own lives more satisfying and peaceful - and who knows what it would mean for the wider world if we all focused first on managing conflict better with those in our immediate lives - what might then radiate out to the wider world?
One of the things I wind up talking a lot about with clients who are wanting to deal with conflict better is this: whilst it might be good to actually resolve conflict, (because that can be satisfying), what is probably more important is to have a way of managing it. And there's a big difference between managing it (that is, developing a map for how you will 'do' conflict) and resolving it. If we have a map, or a way of managing it, the actual focus of the conflict is less important - because now we are more in control of it, and it is less likely to blow up on us.
So here are four very simple yet important pointers. These are not the only strategies for managing conflict. But they are certainly useful ones, and they've been road-tested. Clients I've worked with have tried them and found to be very helpful.
1) Look at your own contribution to the conflict. Conflict usually requires at least two players - so think (and it's so important that you do the thinking bit in a calm and non-volatile way) about what the other person is saying, if someone has raised an issue that they have with you. Do they have a valid concern? If so, acknowledge this to them - this small step in itself will start to take some of the heat out of the situation.
2) When you raise or discuss an issue that's bugging you, use the good old "I" statements: "I got pretty anxious when I discovered that the phone bill was unpaid, and we were about to lose internet service." Talk about the personal impact, rather than going on the attack/blame mode: "You are so useless - you've never paid an account on time in your entire life...." This kind of statement will bring a defensive response, and an escalation of the conflict.
3) Watch your delivery. Use a respectful tone - don't use sarcasm, don't rant and rave, as this will get you a angry, defensive or closed down response from the other person. The whole thing will escalate, and any chance of resolving the issue will be out the window, guaranteed. The following statement has been around forever, and it makes so much sense: "Only 10% of conflict is about the issue - 90% is about the delivery (ie. communication)."
4) Watch your timing. Don't raise an issue with someone if they have just collapsed in the door at home after a long and crappy day. Even within families of people who are all related, people will have differing times of the day when they can manage conflict better. And none of us do it well when we are tired. If you have a burning issue, and the other person looks washed out, or distracted, ask about when might be a good time to talk with them about something that has been worrying you. Timing can also relate to the differing individual processing speeds we might have, or differing amounts of time needed to think about the issue that's been raised: one person might feel good if they can work through an issue right there, and right then, talk it all out so they can move on. The other person's style might be more reflective and inward focusing and they might need to signal something like: "can I think about that for a bit, and get back to you on that tonight?" Different styles resulting in different timing - neither is right or wrong - just different.
As I said earlier, there are no guarantees that these points will resolve the issue (and it's important to know too, when to put something aside, because neither of you are getting anywhere with it). But if you keep them in mind, they will certainly make conflicts more manageable and decrease the chances of them blowing up into bigger, nastier things,
Feel free to contact me if you need any help with managing conflict in any of your close relationships.
"Some occasional thoughts about families, relationships, and other things that distract us...."