Are you aware of the 3 things you must know when dealing with conflict?
I’m an adjunct professor of interpersonal communication and public speaking courses at Cincinnati State College. One of my students stopped me after class the other day and asked if he could pick my brain about how he wanted to help his girlfriend. He looked troubled, and from the several weeks of interactions with him, I knew him as a caring young man. Of course I wanted to help him. So I said, “Sure, what’s up?” His brow furrowed and he ran his fingers through his hair as he started to share about his girlfriend. As it turns out, she and her mom end up in an argument nearly every time they have a conversation. “It’s really sad, she can’t even ask a simple question without her mom getting angry and accusing her of something. She takes everything personally and my girlfriend gets really upset afterward. Sometimes she won’t bring up stuff she needs to talk about because she is afraid of upsetting her mom. So like what can she do? How do I help her with this?” I sensed his compassion for his girlfriend and admired the genuine concern for her and her mom. We had a rather long conversation, but I’ll share with you the main three things I told him that we all must know when dealing with conflict.
Stay tuned to the end and I’ll share an interview I did that captures a lot of this.
- Conflict isn’t just one person’s fault. Unfortunately, we have lost the ability to love ourselves, so we wrap our identity up in the behaviors and emotions of other people. What this means is when someone gets upset, we immediately feel responsible for their feelings and try to make them happy again. One thing we don’t understand about this really unhealthy course of thinking and action is that it just solidifies the problems hanging around for a longer period of time. So I suggested he let his girlfriend know that it is okay if she and her mom have conflict, but that her mom also has some responsibility for how things go. In my experience, literally 100% of the time, BOTH people could do something to help the situation – it’s never just one person’s fault.
- Conflict usually starts because one person or both blame the other while denying their own fears. Usually, we have this tiny moment where we are afraid to tell someone something because of what we fear their reaction will be. So we pretend everything is all right, keep our thoughts to ourselves, or we lash out at the other person, pointing out their flaws instead of talking about our own. Using “I-language” solves this. There is a world of difference between saying, “You’re just going to get upset if I tell you,” and “I am afraid of feeling like a disappointment.” The first is blame and conjecture about someone else, and the second is a gentle undeniable truth about oneself.
- If we don’t speak our truth to ourselves and the other person, we decrease the amount of empathy the other person has for us – in effect, enabling them to treat us even worse. Research shows that relationships that are based on power and control are unstable at best, and at worst, escalate until there is abuse involved. We can stop the escalation in most situations simply by refusing to lie to ourselves and others. NO, we should not be mean in our communication – we need to be kind and gentle as we speak to ourselves and others about truth, but we should not lie. And we should be open to our perceptions being different than other people’s.
I talk more about these things in an interview I did on February 13, with Bob Crittenden for Faith Radio. We talk a lot about conflict and respect in relationships – if you feel led to learn about that, I humbly submit an opportunity to listen by clicking here.
Love to you,
(One more thing, if you are interested in learning more about being effective and confident during conflict (and stop causing it, avoiding it, and instead helping your family resolve differences better), I invite you to do so by joining us in May at our Deflating Defensiveness Training Retreat. It’s crazy good and the results last.)