Conflict- A serious disagreement or argument.
For most people, this word brings up negative connotations but is does not always have to be so. Conflict can also be a change agent. and it can also provide an opportunity for growth. A lot depends on how we handle disagreement. We are often more interested in defending our position like an army in battle than looking out for our best interest. If we are more interested in “winning” than resolving the problem, the disagreement is all the more likely to deepen. Carried to the extreme conflicts become intractable. The on going dispute between Israel and Palestine is a good example. I think the key is de-escalation. Here are some tips that work well for me.
1. I take ownership of what I say by using “I” statements. “Let me be sure if I understand you…”
“I don’t understand. Can you explain it another way for me?”
“This is how I see it…”
“I can try to explain it another way…”
2. Try to avoid “you” statements. This puts the other person on the defensive making them more angry and aggressive in their responses. “You don’t understand…”
“You are wrong…”
“You don’t follow directions…”
“You don’t listen…”
Say the statements in 1 and 2 out loud and think about how they “feel”.
3. Acknowledge what the other person is saying. This is not so hard and let’s the other person know you are really listening. Reflect back to the person what they are saying. “Le me be sure I understand you…”. This gives them a chance to hear themselves and clarify what they are saying.
4. Focus on the issue and not the people. To put it another way, be hard on the problem and not each other. Work together to identify the real cause of the conflict. Often, what starts off as something seemingly trivial masks the real issue at hand. For example, my wife gets angry with me for spending a little money on something we do not need. It turns out she is worried what will happen to us if I lose my job.
5. The relationship. What do I value most; winning an argument or preserving the relationship? There are times when it obvious maintaining a positive relationship with someone is more important than “winning”. I think this applies not just to those we are close to but to others we come into contact with day to day. Even when we disagree, using “I” statements, avoiding “you…” acknowledging what I’m being told and focusing on the issue will go a long way to building better relationships now and for the future.