Conflict is an inevitable part of life. Few of us have had training in how to handle conflict. Usually what we do is just repeat what was modeled for us by our parents and family. Conflict can be healthy or unhealthy depending upon how it is handled. The ultimate goal of a healthy argument is to express or get what you want/need without ruining the relationship, or losing your self-respect.
Speak Your Truth
It is maddening to have others tell us what we think and feel! Stick to your own area of expertise: your own thoughts, feelings, desires, and experiences. Using “I-statements” helps you focus on your truth. “You-statements” tend to put people on the defensive, partly because you are invading their territory. They are experts on themselves, not you, so it is a matter of respecting boundaries.
Manage Your Emotions
You are responsible for your own emotions, thoughts, or behavior. If you overreact in a given situation, that is your responsibility. It is not reasonable to say, “You made me mad so I had to ….”
Facts Before Feelings
State the facts about a potentially contentious situation before launching into your reaction to it. For example, “Five nights in a row you didn’t do your homework.” Then give your reaction to those facts. “I am frustrated and angry…” Then state clearly what you want. “I want you to…”
Avoid guilt-tripping “shoulds”. This assumes the other person buys into your moral philosophy or version of the truth. It will be more effective to stick to “I want…” If dealing with a child or an employee, you can simply say,” You are responsible for _____.”
Less Is More
Have you ever had someone just talk and talk and talk at you? Sometimes we drown others in a waterfall of words because we think we will eventually convince them to see things our way! Forget about it! Let go of the idea that people need to agree with us. Be brief, get to the point, and give others the dignity of having their own opinion!
Avoid shouting, swearing, or throwing things. This may feel powerful in the moment but actually conveys the message that you are out-of-control. This is especially unhelpful when dealing with children. A child will think, “Mom or Dad is out-of-control, just like me” and the healthy authority of the parent is undermined. This causes us to lose the respect of others as well as self-respect. And sometimes it can lead to unhealthy overcompensating.
Abusive language-hateful digs, sarcasm, name-calling- shuts down communication. It is an effective way to wound someone but not an effective way to resolve conflicts. Abusive language can permanently damage relationships and self-respect. Remember the three things you are trying to accomplish in conflicts- getting what you want, protecting the relationship, maintaining self-respect? Abusive language undermines all of these things. Sarcasm has its place but is rarely useful when sincerely attempting to work through conflict. This can be particularly damaging for kids. Children understand the intent to mock or wound, but the subtlety of sarcasm is often lost on them.
Give An Incentive
Give the other person a reason to want to work with you. Consequences motivate behavior. Show the other person how a change in his behavior will ultimately benefit him and/or the relationship. When dealing with kids stay in the present. Telling a kid, “Do your chores because it will teach you a great work ethic which will help you get a great job someday” will RARELY motivate. “Finish your chores so you can hang out with your friends” will inspire more cooperation.
Cash in on positive interactions. It is much easier to resolve conflicts when the relationship good-will bank is full. If most of the time the other person sees you are invested in the relationship, showing genuine love and concern, treating her with kindness and respect she will likely respond better in the heat of an argument. Managing conflict takes a certain amount of trust and goodwill. If I believe that the other person is trustworthy and has my best interest at heart, I am much more likely to listen. During times of relative peace, work on building up the goodwill bank. Make small deposits frequently through kind words, encouragement, affection, attention, and being supportive and helpful.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a registered nurse with several years experience helping people with healthy, successful living.
Suzanne Jones, BSN, LPC, NCC (225) 278-3541 [email protected]