Conflict is inevitable. Even the best relationships have issues, but when you’re not constructive in your approach, conflict can be something that becomes negative and harms your relationships. Too many people try to avoid conflict and hope those conflict will just ‘go away’ on their own. That doesn’t happen and many times it only leads to more conflicts. However, if you realize that conflict can actually strengthen relationships, you might be more inclined to discuss your feelings. But how do you ‘fight constructively’?
Try these 10 Steps to Resolving Conflict:
1) Mutually agree on a time and place to discuss the conflict. Expressing a conflict to your loved one when they first come home or are heading off to work is seldom the right time. You have to agree to talk to one another when you both have time to focus on your relationship.
2) When you state what you see as the problem don’t speak in generalizations. List your concerns, but do so without judgment, accusations or ‘absolute statements’ (such as using words like “always” or “never”).
3) Put the focus on yourself and make “I” statements. For example, instead of saying, “You never take out the trash” say “I would appreciate it if the trash went out more often without me asking.”
4) Let the other person speak. Communication is not a single player sport, so don’t interrupt or contradict them. Try to remember, it’s not a debate where you only have five minutes for a rebuttal. You’ll get your chance to speak, so let them talk.
5) Under no circumstance should you allow intimidating or disrespectful behavior. This can include name-calling, threats, obscenities or yelling. Remember, words can be used to hurt just as much as fists. It’s okay to fight, but fight fair.
6) Ask exploratory questions (like ‘what if…’ questions) and listen to the answers to see if you understand the responses.
7) After you’ve listened to the answers, use your own words to restate what the other person means. Sometimes what you hear isn’t what the other person intended. By restating it in your own words you can avoid lots of hurt feelings and resolve conflicts sooner.
8) Stick to one conflict at a time by discussing the issue at hand and not every injustice since you met. Many people who think conflict will just go away on it’s own are usually the biggest violators of this rule. They try to pack in every problem they’ve ever had into one conversation. So don’t argue about what happened last year – stick to what’s happening right now.
9) Acknowledge the person’s feelings and perceptions. Try to step outside of yourself and put yourself in their place. You don’t have to agree with them, but you should acknowledge that they have a right to have feelings, just like you have that right.
10) Seek common ground by deciding on what you can agree on and what concerns you share together. You’ll find that if you can get to Step 9, then coming to Step 10 is much easier. You’ve walked in their shoes, so you can move forward together. It’s at this point you can brainstorm solutions to the conflict constructively so it strengthens your relationship.
Once you have a solution remember to include a timetable for implementing it, such as, ‘Starting tomorrow, I’ll take the trash out when it’s full.” You’re not just promising ‘someday’ to resolve a problem. You’re making a legitimate plan to correct a problem.
But what happens if the discussion breaks down and you seem to talk in circles? Not all problems go away in one conversation. Forget the old adage that it’s never okay to go to bed mad. Yes, it is okay, just as long as you don’t abuse the ones you love – verbally or physically.
The best solution is to reschedule another time that’s agreeable to both parties to meet and talk some more. It’s not a bad idea to perhaps bring in a third or forth party to hear both sides of the arguments. It’s like the trite expression says, ‘Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.’ Having someone outside your relationship look at both sides of the conflict can often help you find a resolution you never considered because ‘you’re too close’ to the situation.
Keep in mind that some conflicts might never be resolved. A good rule is don’t sweat the small stuff. For example, you think the Rolling Stones are the greatest band ever and your loved one swears by The Beatles. You’ll never agree, and you’ll always adamantly defend your choice. It’s okay to just ‘agree to disagree’ and look the other way on some topics. However, when you seldom agree on anything, and it makes life almost unbearable, then you need to really examine if the relationship is worth the toll it’s taking emotionally.
In the end, resolving conflict can be quite simple. Treat people the way you wish you’d be treated…Period. When you do, you’ll find that conflict doesn’t have to be a scary thing. In fact, it can be a building block to a better relationship.