Conflict happens in all relationships. The conflict maybe as simply as “I want Chinese for lunch and you want Mexican” or so complicated that the only way to deal with the issue is to agree to disagree. Conflict does not require drama. One of the most useful skills we can develop are the basic tools for healthy conflict resolution.
Three Basic Tools for Conflict Resolution
I’ve found that the simplest tools are often ignored because we want a magic cure. We don’t want to have to put force effort or find ourselves in uncomfortable solutions. Often the solutions to life’s most difficult problems are simple, it is their implementation that is difficult.
The three basic tools:
- Be Open And Curious,
- Listen To Understand
- Speak To Inform
Most of us are neither very good listeners nor good speakers when caught in conflict. We either feel a need to defend our position or just give in because we feel that what we have to say won’t be valued or heard anyway.
“Lisa” and “Jeff” represent many couples I have worked with as a relationship coach. “Jeff” failed to see what was important about an issue to “Lisa.” I asked “Lisa” to explain what was important to her and she had trouble verbalizing a response. As I helped her explain to “Jeff” she was instantly pleased that he understood what she was saying. He had been trying to solve the problem in a way that he even said felt uncomfortable to him. He did not understand “Lisa’s” point of view but was willing to listen.
“Lisa’s” fears that “Jeff” would not understand were unfounded. “Jeff” with a new understanding of the issue was eager to work with “Lisa” on its resolution. Now on a new footing, a new understanding with each other, they had a solid foundation to work together to solve the problem.
Ditch the Drama
Creating drama, yelling and screaming or deciding it’s your way just cause the other party to shut down. Becoming a chameleon and not voicing your opinion for fear of rocking the boat is also a negative way of handling conflict. For more on Handling Conflict Badly, check out this article. Whether it’s in the home, with friends or with coworkers conflict is common.
When we get into our fear mode which is what fuels the drama, our prefrontal cortex actually shuts down and we’ve lost our ability to rationally deal with the problem.
Curiosity and Openness are the Prerequisite
We can only deal with conflict when we come from a place of curiosity and openness instead of attack and defend or retreat and withdrawal.
Dealing with conflict clears the air. Allows both sides to be heard and respected and allows ultimately for deeper understanding and connection.
Listen to Understand
Taking the time to deeply listen is not always a skill we value in our fast paced society yet when someone else listens deeply to us, we feel valued. Listening to understand, can also be viewed as empathy.
- Listen to both what is said and what is left unsaid.
- Listen for the feelings the speaker is feeling as he or she talks.
- Listen for the most important points – not to you – but to the person who is speaking.
- Ask, does the person speaking feel that you understand what is important to him or her?
- Stay curious and ask “Tell me more”” or Help me understand.”
- Be patient.
Speak to Inform
We want the other person to understand what is important to us, but we may feel fearful of speaking up because we don’t want to rock the boat or because our viewpoint has not been heard or respected in the past. No one can hear you if you don’t speak up.
Before starting, look the other person in the eyes and make sure that you have their attention and that this is good time for the other person to listen to what you have to say.
- Remain calm.
- Speak from a place of informing.
- Do not speak from a place of blame or criticism.
- Use only I statements such as I want or I would like.
- If helpful, write down you main points so you may be clear and to the point.
When we speak from a place of blaming or shaming, the other immediately shuts down and no longer listens or respects what we have to say.
Are you truly interested in creating a win-win solution? If not, this will come out in your attitude and your tone of voice.
If you only want your way and you are not interested in resolving conflict than no amount of training in conflict resolution will help. Likewise, if you are not willing to speak up and ask for what you want, it is not going to happen. People cannot read your mind.
Try these three tools next time you are sincere in your desire to reolve conflict or deal with a difficult issue. Let me know what happens.