Everyone has conflict at one time or another. If you are married, you probably have a good bit of conflict. If you don’t, then there might be something wrong with your relationship. Maybe you are still in the “in-love” stage of your relationship. Maybe you just ignore it and pretend everything is just fine.
It does not matter if you are single or married, conflict happens at work, with friends, at school, at church and with neighbors. So if we all experience this from time to time, how do you resolve it?
Resolving conflict is something you learn as you grow up. Unfortunately many of us did not have good role models to learn from. All parents make mistakes and we tend to pick up some of the same bad habits our parents had. Some people ignore conflict and deny it is happening, others get loud and yell, others simply shut down or leave. Maybe you had a great role model and have mastered conflict resolution. If so, you can stop reading.
In my experience most conflict comes from either a misunderstanding, a lack of information/unclear expectation or hurtful language. So if you would like to reduce your conflict, start using words of encouragement more, share information openly and frequently and make sure you are clearly communicating your message (Think before you speak).
One of the best things you can do to resolve conflict is to listen. Often in a conflict situation we get defensive and don’t really listen to the other person. If you stop and try to fully understand what the other person is trying to say it often helps to diffuse the situation. A simple exercise that can help in this area is called “having the floor”. Only the person with the “floor” may speak. The speaker must be brief, so the listener can paraphrase. The speaker must not be accusatory or mind read. The speaker needs to avoid beginning sentences with “you”. The listener paraphrases only what they thought they heard the speaker say (without comment, even if they disagree, responding with statements such as “I hear you saying…”). The listener may ask questions or seek clarification while the speaker still has the floor, but may not respond until the floor is passed to them. The floor then changes hands and the listener becomes the speaker. You might want to use an object like a pen to represent the floor.
This simple exercise causes you to slow down and listen, which often helps to communicate much better. If people feel like you are at least listening to them and trying to understand, it helps to resolve the conflict. You can focus in on what the issue really is. Was it a misunderstanding, maybe an unclear expectation or a lack of information. In those cases you can talk it out and get it resolved. You can even agree to disagree at this point, but you are talking and moving forward.
When hurtful language starts flying or maybe a sarcastic tone is used, there is usually an underlying problem. Usually a core fear has been triggered. What I mean by a core fear, is that we all have these inner fears, things like a fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of being inadequate, or a fear of being judged or humiliated. When these inner fears are touched by a situation or words, our emotions flare up. We often get defensive and try to make it stop, usually by trying to change the other person. We will say or do something to try to get the other person to stop hurting you, often by hurting them. You see that person as both your problem and your solution. This is the “fear dance” and it doesn’t get you anywhere, it only causes more damage and more conflict.
To stop the fear dance you have to stop hurting back when you get hurt. You have to take personal responsibility for your actions and words. Someone has to stop and listen and try to understand. Start asking questions and explore why the other person got so defensive or why you got so defensive. What inner fear has been tapped? You can’t control what the other person says or does, but you can control what you do and say. By not letting a conflict situation get out of control or escalate you have a much better chance of resolving it.
Resolving conflict starts with each one of us. It means having the courage to admit when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness. It means extending forgiveness to others. It means having some difficult conversations and being clear about your feelings and thoughts. It means taking the time to try to understand the other persons point of view. Resolving conflict helps us to grow emotionally. It is also a time of spiritual growth because we can look to God for the strength, wisdom and courage we need to work on the relationships in our lives.
Sometimes you need a cooling off period before you have the talk. You simply need to let the other person know that you need 30 minutes to cool off and then you will talk. During that 30 minutes ask yourself why you got so mad? What made you go off or feel so hurt. Spend a few minutes in prayer and ask God to reveal what needs to change in you. If you focus on the behavior of the other person and how that behavior made you feel, it will help the other person understand better. When you use words that accuse and attack the other person will not want to try to understand. When you are ready to talk don’t wait, make the call or call the meeting. The longer you procrastinate the worse it will eat at you and the more damage it will do to the relationship.