Often, we are consulted to help manage and resolve conflict situations and have even developed an 8-step methodology for approaching conflict conversations. Having struggled through the difficulties of repairing broken relationships, I decided to focus on ways to make my relationships stronger and heal them. I wanted to do this before they are so terribly damaged by addressing the following questions: How can I avoid conflict? What are some of the signals that indicate potential conflict? How can I become more adept at recognizing these signs and symptoms before they reach the point of crisis?
Think of the most rewarding relationships that you have. These could be in your personal or business life. What makes them fun for you? How are you different with these people and why? What makes you be different with people with whom you experience extreme conflict?
In thinking of my own relationships, the ones in which I feel I have been able to prevent conflict; they are characterized by the following attributes:
- Mutual caring and respect
- A feeling of emotional safety
- A willingness to be up-front and honest without fear of hostility
- An acceptance of constructive criticism as well-meaning
- A belief that we have each other's best interest at heart
- Support for creative expression
- Acknowledgement of uncomfortable thoughts or feelings
- Listening carefully to each other without interruption
- A willingness to problem-solve, even if it’s difficult
- Testing new actions that we've agreed upon
- Continuing to share our feelings, what we appreciate about our relationship and what’s not working how we’d like it to
If we were to take just the opposite of these points, we could identify how conflict situations could arise when any of these elements are not present in our relationship.
A recent situation occurred when I was traveling with my older sister. This could have resulted in conflict; however I remembered and practiced many of these eleven attributes in my relationship with her. We stopped to change drivers and she immediately told me, in her willingness to be up-front and honest without fear of hostility, that she always drove with her headlights on and instructed me on how to move to different seat positions and adjust the mirrors. The "Baby Sister" in me began to think to myself: "There she goes again, trying to tell me how to do things, just because she is the oldest." Instead, I took a deep breath and listened carefully without interruption, recognizing that I was bringing up some old feelings of anger and resentment, and said absolutely nothing. Instead of reacting to my feelings in my gut, I paused to think about why she was saying those things (which was a belief that she had my best interest in mind).
I calmly said with a willingness to problem solve: "I remember how well you notice all of the details about many things that you do --- like how you adjust the mirrors, for example. We were always different in that way. My thinking is more global and abstract. I'll act more by the way that I feel than from following a detailed plan. We will both get to a workable answer in a different way.” I tested new actions that we had agreed upon by adjusting the mirror so that I had a clear view in all directions. I then added: "With two-lane highways, I also drive with my lights on. This road is wider than that but I am willing to keep the lights on if you will feel more comfortable with me doing it that way." I drove the next 50 miles while she rested and felt good that I had avoided letting two little girls argue over who gets to be in control and instead supported each of us to express our individual creativity.
The bottom line is to speak up and let your expectations be known, share your concerns, and acknowledge what you appreciate in your relationships. Don't avoid it, making up a reason that it’s easier and will be less conflict not to share. Your relationships will only be authentic and true when you say what you need to express, ask for what you need in return, and hear the response. Practice being authentically who you are, not necessarily who you think the other person prefers you to be. Often, conflicts develop based on what is NOT SAID and some kind of miscommunication. Then, we guess at the other person's thoughts, feelings, and motives and speak or behave according to what we made up – which is often wrong! To prevent conflict, opt for clarity and practice being in communication, coming from a belief that you both have each other’s best interest in mind. Test this out and let us know what happens.
With Warm Regards,
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