Conflict Resolution Skills

Sharpen your Conflict Resolution Skills

Company owner Mark dealt with conflict every day. If it wasn’t with vendors and clients, it was with his ex-wife or teenage son. Things started to change when Mark began using conflict resolution skills. “I used to add fuel to the fire by getting stuck in my position. Now I take a step back, breathe deep and listen. The more I do that, the easier it is to solve problems.”

Mark learned that conflicts don’t need to be volatile and negative. Conflicts can actually lead to an increase in understanding and creative thinking. It’s how we deal with conflict that determines the outcome.

In this era of school and work place shootings, road rage, and even supermarket rage, knowing how to resolve conflicts can save a life. Beyond that, conflict resolution skills can improve relationships and deepen understanding.

Step 1: Take time to cool off.

Conflicts can’t be solved in the face of hot emotions. Take a step back, bring some emotional distance before continuing. When you take time to breathe and regain your focus you create opportunities to choose your response rather than just reacting. If you try to skip this step, your words are often too emotionally loaded.

Step 2: Each person states the problem using “I messages.

“I messages” are a tool that expresses how we feel without attacking or blaming. By starting from “I,” we take responsibility for the way we perceive the problem.

This is in sharp contrast to “you messages,” which put others on the defensive and close doors to communication. A statement like, “you’ve left the kitchen a mess again! Can’t you ever clean up after yourself?” will escalate the conflict. An “I message” such as, “I’m annoyed because I thought we agreed to clean up the kitchen after using it. What happened?” comes across much differently.

When making “I” statements, it’s important to avoid put downs, guilt-trips, sarcasm and negative body language. We need to be non-combative and willing to compromise. A key in conflict resolution is, “it’s us against the problem, not us against each other.” “I” messages enable us to convey this.

Step 3: Each person restates what they heard the other person say.

Reflective listening demonstrates that we care enough to hear the other person out, rather than just focusing on ourselves. It actually fosters empathy.

Mark describes how he used reflective listening when he interrupted a shouting match between his ex-wife and teenage son.

“No sooner had I walked in the door to pick up Randy then he and his mother erupted into a battle. In the past I might have shouted for them to stop, only to be drawn into the fray. Instead I took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts and chose my words carefully. I calmly asked them each if they could tell me what happened. Then I reflected back what they said. My willingness to listen helped them listen too. They actually came to a compromise, something I’d never before thought possible.“

Step 4: Take responsibility.

In the majority of conflicts, both parties have some degree of responsibility. However, most of us tend to blame rather than looking at our own role in the problem. When we take responsibility, we shift the conflict into an entirely different gear – one where resolution is possible.

Step 5: Brainstorm solutions and come up with one that satisfies both people.

Resolving conflict is a creative act. There are many solutions to a single problem. The key is a willingness to seek compromises.

Step 6: Affirm, forgive or thank each other.

A handshake, hug or kind word gives you closure to the resolution of conflicts. Forgiveness is the highest form of closure. When you forgive somebody, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence. Saying thank you or acknowledging the persons efforts at the end of a conflict sends a message of conciliation and gratitude. This preserves our relationships and strengthens our connections while working through problems.

In Summary

  • Tell the truth
  • Treat each other with respect
  • Attack the problem, not the person
  • Wait your turn to speak. No interrupting
  • Be willing to compromise

I try to forgive but I just can’t FORGET

To forgive and forget has been a phrase that most of us have known, and have likely used at one time or another. It seems like an ideal that all individuals should strive for in healthy relationships. However, the problem is that, we as humans are not good “forgetters.” In fact, more often than not, the more we try to forget something, the more we end up rehearsing it and committing it to memory.  In his book Hate-Work, author David Augsburger believes that we all find a “place for our grief, rage, and resentment in our memory.”

Screen Shot 2015 09 17 at 11.45.09 AM 300x99 I try to forgive but I just cant FORGETThe difficult reality is that we were designed to remember.  Our choice then is not to remember or forget, but to choose the manner in which we will remember the wrongs committed against us. In the same book, Augsburger states that, “people need to remember their story, tell it with historical accuracy, recall the injuries given and received, and do reparative work or they are very likely to repeat it in painful detail. Simple forgetting, repressing of memories, substituting disinformation holds an [individual] hostage to his past.” It is therefore over simplistic and unrealistic to hold ourselves to the idea of “forgiving and forgetting.” We can, however, examine the manner in which we remember those who have wronged us.  How will we model for our children how to practice forgiveness in their own lives?

Reflect on the following “Exploration Inventory” from the book Hate Work.  It has been modified from how it was originally printed to fit common experiences we often find in the families we work with at Shelterwood:

  • Are there members in my extended family whom I have emotionally cut off, who were previously connected with me but are no longer so?
  • Do I have hurtful relationships with my spouse or children that I cannot stop reviewing?
  • Do I realize what payoff I get from rehearsing an offense over and over?
  • How often have I told and retold the story of the offense to others to gain their support and validation of my role as victim?

Maybe Teens Should “Just Relax” and Not Parents

I read a survey today of 340,000 Americans that said that after we turn 50, we are generally happier. The 30-50 age was less happy and the most stressed out group was 20-30. The study didn’t survey teenagers, but I wonder if the 13-18 group would top all the age groups on feeling stressed. Today’s teens especially carry a pretty hefty load of issues on their shoulders every day. Of course, the load is relative to the degree that we learn to be content. That’s why the older we get, the more at peace we become. But teenagers are just beginning to deal with life’s up’s and down’s.

images 5 Maybe Teens Should Just Relax and Not ParentsSometimes your teen may seem to be overly sensitive. And the more you try to help them, the more he or she may cry or sob. The guys will be better at ‘stuffing’ and will tend to funnel all their emotions into the one they know best: anger. Girls tend to be more expressive and deliberate in their emotions.

I remember one night when Elizabeth came home from cheering at a basketball game. She made it to the steps coming up from our basement and fell to her knees sobbing. I thought she’d broken up with her boyfriend or been in a bad accident. She announced that someone had backed into her car in the high school parking lot. I looked at her car and it didn’t even do much damage. I laughed and gave her a big hug. Another time she called home from college in tears and upset. As she cried, I figured she’d been kicked out of school or arrested. She announced, “Daddy, I dropped my cell phone in the fountain.” I just started laughing again. I was so relieved. It made her laugh too. “It’s OK darlin,” I said. “We’ll get you another phone.”

The point is that a part of being a teenager is feeling things intensely. I probably shouldn’t have laughed with Elizabeth because what may seem trivial to us as parents is huge to them. But I was so relieved. As parents who have dealt with heavier issues, getting bumped by a car is small beans. But to our kids, these events are huge.

We need to be careful that we validate our teen’s emotions. As parents, we tend to trivialize events and happenings in the lives of our teens. Though dropping a cell phone or struggling with a friend at school or having a bad baseball practice or having a zit may seem small to us, to our kids, it’s huge and we need to feel the pain with them. The danger, if we discard these events, is that our teens will stop telling us about events in their lives.

Yes, hormones are pumping and our teens may seem irrational at times, but show your teenager that you love them by listening to them in the midst of the drama. Don’t offer advice or minimize the problem, just listen and sympathize.

Yep, you may have a drama queen (or king) on your hands. But be sure you take them by the hand and show them you love them by being with them through the problem.