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

Compassion Fatigue

iStock 000013332733Medium 300x200 Compassion FatigueRecently, I spent a few days at the NATSAP conference on behalf of Shelterwood. I was fortunate enough to hear John Townsend speak on boundaries. He shared about the cost of not keeping healthy boundaries for parents and care workers (compassion fatigue). Here are a few of the thoughts that I felt were particularly helpful.

Teens Need Boundaries

Adolescence is an important stage for kids to push against parents in an effort to build autonomy. Without boundaries, teens are more likely to become depressed, anxious, angry and detached. Of course, it is not easy to put boundaries in place and maintain them. Boundaries can feel like battle lines as teens love to say, ‘no,’ but often struggle hearing the word ‘no’ themselves. Yet we all know, as successful adults, that hearing the word no is a part of life. It is critical to be able to deal with our emotions when someone says no to us.

Boundaries will feel harsh if they are not built with love and empathy. But make no mistake; there still needs to be a line. Without boundaries, teens can become aggressive, believing that the world is their ‘property.’ Other teens that have experienced boundary violations may become depressed and allow others to trample on their boundaries sexually, emotionally, or physically because they have come to believe that they have no ‘property.’

If not creating boundaries leaves our kids or clients struggling into adulthood, then why is it so hard for us to maintain clear boundaries? Why might we so quickly give in to the demands of our teens, friends, co-workers or spouses?

  1. Afraid of losing the relationship

Relationships are critical to each of our lives and they are often what keep us going. It is easy for us as parents or counselors to build entitlement within our kids or clients because we are safe for them and we feel special when they seek us out. So we might give them extra time, money, or praise when what would actually be better for them is to hear the word ‘no.’ They need to hear no even when giving them a longer counseling session might seem useful, or when giving them their full allowance even though chores are undone in order for them to buy that special pair of pants that will generate a hug and a smile. Teens become entitled so quickly when boundaries are not kept. It is so easy to drift from compassion into co-dependency. When we are afraid of losing a relationship with a distant teen, friend, or spouse, he or she quickly has leverage on us and this is a dangerous power for anyone to have, especially teens. In order to combat the need for your teen’s approval, try to create a ‘life team,’ a group of adults that can support and encourage you outside of the home. Don’t rely on your kids to nurture you, lest you give them too much power.

  1. Conflict Avoidance

Each of us learned how to deal with conflict when we were nine years old. Take a moment to think back to those young years in your childhood home. Maybe you learned how to explode with anger, change the subject, or laugh. Each of these techniques does not really deal with the conflict. The inability to manage conflict leaves you weak in the face of opposition and trying to defend yourself when you actually do say ‘no’ in order to create a boundary around a behavior. Townsend encourages people to role-play in an effort to change the neurology in the brain. It is critical that we as parents and care givers learn to confront conflict and become able to embrace the emotions that come along with saying ‘no’ in order to win the long- term battle of autonomy.

  1. Fear of Failure

We create a fragile teen when we don’t think they can handle boundaries. They become more insecure when we fail to provide the security of rules and follow through. Teens need to learn how to adapt to the difficulties of the world and that failure is part of life. As parents and counselors, we often perceive struggling teens as weak and incapable of dealing with failure. We might unconsciously believe that their drug addiction, depression or anger is the result of difficulty in their lives, and that if we can just remove the difficulty, then they won’t need to self medicate by cutting their arms, getting high, or acting out sexually. When we see them as fragile, we tend to compensate for their weaknesses and enable them to maintain these behaviors. Trying to keep your teen happy and safe will wear you out and fail to teach them how to survive on their own. So often we tiptoe around our teens when they struggle with depression, anger, anxiety, and/or learning difficulties that we actually build greater insecurity in them and continue to perpetuate a dependence on us. While this might make us feel needed and important in the relationship, we are actually just enabling co-dependence.

If you struggle to create boundaries with your teen, ask yourself these four questions when they make a request for your help:

  1. Is this something that they can do for themselves?
  2. Do you have the resources to help?
  3. Will you feel cheerful or resentful after helping them?
  4. Is the outcome going to build autonomy or dependence?