Nora Rhoades, Family & Youth Development Agent
Love is saying “I feel differently” instead of “you’re wrong”.
Conflict happens. It happens at work, at home, and everywhere in between. Conflict is a natural experience for humans because we approach day-to-day situations from many unique perspectives and with a variety of skills and talents.
When conflict takes place things may seem to collide, clash, and become incompatible. Negative emotions threaten take over. And sometimes, there just doesn’t seem to be a light at the end of the tunnel.
Healthy conflict management is challenging; however, it is true that practice helps make perfect. Taking time to evaluate how you approach conflict can improve relationships, attitudes, and your ability to be a positive role model for others. How you work through conflict will determine whether you approach sustainability and positive progress or detour toward stress and situations that spiral out of control.
Strong Families: Tips for Healthy Conflict Management, a resource from The National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families, describes five rules for constructive conflict. Remember, verbal, emotional or physical abuse is ever part of healthy conflict management.
1) Don’t Send Destructive Messages
In the heat of the moment, destructive conflict can creep into disagreements. Always remember that these types of destructive messages will only make things worse, never better:
· Criticism involves attacking someone to portray yourself as being right and the other person as being wrong, often using statements such as, “You always” or “You never.” Statements with these phrases are rarely accurate and should be avoided.
· Defensiveness happens when you see yourself as the victim who’s being attacked. You may think “The problem isn’t me, it’s you!” Defensiveness may include making excuses, denying responsibility, and sarcasm. Although these reactions might be normal, defensiveness will keep you from being able to deal with the issue at hand because you are not open to suggestions or trying to understand the other person’s perspective.
· Contempt involves attacking and intentionally putting others down through name calling (such as saying fat, stupid, ugly, or lazy) or body language (such as sneering, eye rolling, curling upper lip, or rude gestures). Contempt is the most toxic and destructive way to try and deal with conflict.
· Stonewalling is the “whatever” moment in the relationship when one individual stops caring and checks out by refusing to communicate.
2. Soften Your Startup
If you have something important that you want to talk about, don’t start the conversation by immediately attacking your partner. Use a soft startup to help the other person feel less defensive and more willing to talk. If you feel too angry to discuss something calmly, don’t discuss it at all until you’ve calmed down. Here are some ways to soften your start-up:
· Complain, don’t blame. No matter how wrong you feel your partner is, don’t approach them with criticisms. Try saying “Honey, it’s frustrating when we forget to take the trash out on time. How can we remember to get it out in the future?” instead of “I can’t believe you forgot to take the trash out again! You are so forgetful!”
· Make statements that start with “I” instead of “You.” Start your sentences with “I” so you don’t put your friend into a defensive position. Say, “I don’t feel like you are listening right now” instead of “You’re not listening to me.”
3. Soothe Yourself and Your Partner
You don’t have to get angry about your differences. You can calm yourself and your partner by using time-outs, speaking in a soft voice, speaking non-defensively, smiling, using appropriate humor, relaxing, or thinking positively about your partner and your situation.
You don’t always have to have things your way. Take other people’s preferences and opinions seriously, resist the urge to be defensive, and respectfully listen to others. Compromise is a two-way street; it is reasonable to expect your friend to consider your opinion and preferences as well.
5. Accept and Forgive
Individuals in healthy relationships accept differences and forgive each other when appropriate. Understand that no matter how many similarities you both share, you will have some differences of opinion and choosing to be forgiving can strengthen your family and relationship. However, if you or your partner has a pattern of saying hurtful things during an argument and expecting to be forgiven after, this may indicate a more serious issue.
· Article Content – Strong Families: Tips for Healthy Conflict Management by The National Resource Center for Healthy Marriage and Families, http://bit.ly/19psiN2
· Photo – by Ed Yourdon, http://bit.ly/1NyZS2k