6 Helpful Hints for Handling Family and Relationship Conflicts
Engaging in conflict can be daunting or scary, especially if it is with your family or close friends that you have history with. It can also be a deeply healing and transformational experience if you are able to engage with someone you are in conflict with in a respectful manner, always seeking to understand and to be understood.
Here are 6 ways to handle conflicts that can really help find successful resolution:
1- Take a cool down/time out -- If you are feeling really “triggered” or angry, take a time out. During your “cool down” or “time out” make sure that you aren’t cycling through your head all the reasons that you are right and they are wrong. Instead, take time to think about what the goal of making your point is, and if that goal is realistic and achievable. (There’s a whole other blog topic to think about- How do you know when it’s worth engaging in conflict?- Stay tuned!) If it is realistic, then focus your conversation on what is achievable, how and what your purpose in engaging this person is about. If it’s not realistic, then focus your energy on how you can really feel better, meet your own needs, and do not engage the other person. Meeting your own needs can look like being recognized in another way for your own unique goodness or skills. It can come in the form of positive self-talk, calling a friend to see how they are doing and feeling loved and respected in that way, or writing in a journal or Facebook post where you can get positive feedback for your beliefs that may have been challenged. Being careful in these practices to avoid demonizing the other person’s beliefs and values is especially important, since lack of mutual respect is generally the reason you are not able to engage in conflict in the first place.
2- Practice Reflective Listening -- If you do think you can engage in civil conversation and your goal is to help others understand how you feel and attempt to understand their situation as well, then go for it! And go for it with very intentional reflective listening skills. Make sure you are repeating back to the other person what it is you think you’re hearing from them, and form your reflections like a question. “It sounds like you’re saying ____, did I understand that right?” Make sure you do this as many times as you need to gain full understanding of their feelings and values, BEFORE you respond with your own. This works really well for people who “really need to be right” as it’s helpful for them to be understood, and it can often stop a cycle of repeated arguments. Remember that understanding someone else’s point of view doesn’t have to mean that you agree with them!
3- Pay attention to your tone -- Keeping your voice, calm, interested, light and respectful will help others feel that you are really trying to solve an issue, not just to “stir up trouble.” Your tone of voice can really give away your sarcasm, your inability to understand and especially your lack of respect. If you are trying to engage in effective conflict resolution, then sarcasm, lack of understanding or disrespect are not tools that will help you find success in resolution. If you find you’re this far and your tone is still revealing your distain for the other person, refer back to item #1 on this list and re-assess.
4- Own your own feelings and values -- Be clear about your feelings and values on the subject, being sure to make your points about what you believe and why you believe them – not blaming the other person for how you feel.
You can try using an “I-statement” : “I feel __(state your feeling)__ When __(snapshot description of what happened-without using judgments or labels)__ because __(what belief or value you hold about what just happened)__ and I hope __(What you would like to see change including how you personally will attempt change)__.”
Your feelings are always valid, it’s your reactions to feeling the way you do that can make or break a conflict situation. People’s deep beliefs are not easily changed, and will only change if they are willing. The way people treat you as a result of their values is something that is changed more easily when they understand how they differ from your own. Seeking to understand and to be understood is an effective way to calm conflicts and make them into great catalysts for better interactions in the future.
5- Be willing to apologize -- If you are able to see that your comments or actions are triggering others, and are willing to apologize for offending them, you are more likely to get an apology from them as well. Even if the other person isn’t able to apologize for offending you, you can feel more resolved on your own by seeking forgiveness over rightness.
6- Remember that conflict is an opportunity! -- Conflict is the most incredible catalyst for positive change in this world and in our relationships. Read my very first blog here, to find out more depth around why I love conflict!