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Formula for Conflict

Most people are uncomfortable dealing with conflict. They have a tendency to avoid it for fear of being hurt or hurting others. Unless you have lots of experience in dealing with conflict, your first reaction is fight or flight.

How do you handle conflict? You were likely not taught specific techniques that would help you identify and work through it. As a result you may not know how to approach, process, and resolve conflict. Perhaps you may have remembered your parents giving you advice like, “Don’t hit” or “Don’t hit first” or “Don’t call your sister names” or “Just walk away”. These specific recommendations aren’t all inclusive and don’t teach healthy ways of handling confrontation.

The guidelines that I recommend apply to kids, couples, families, and groups. They are universal and apply to most situations. As you read the following advice think back to a disagreement that you encountered with someone and assess how well you approached the conflict.

If you are the person who is angry:

  • Take time to cool down and share your feelings in a calm and direct manner.
  • Pick the appropriate place and time. Ask the person if they will meet you to talk out your differences. Some people are more comfortable in public places while others prefer a private site.
  • When possible, discuss the situation and own your contribution to the conflict. If you have contributed to the problem it can be empowering to admit up front that you made some bad decisions. Not only are you a good role model, but you decrease the defensiveness that naturally occurs when a disagreement evolves.
  • Whenever possible, describe the events and your feelings and then take a break. Allow the other person to respond to you.
    It’s extremely helpful to repeat back what you heard the other person saying. It’s amazing how often you misinterpreted or misunderstood the facts.
  • Speak for yourself. It can be tempting to tell the other person that others agree with you but refrain from including others into your disagreement.
  • Stay as calm as possible and approach the conflict without an attack or a counter-attack. (If you secretly want to hurt the other person, you’re not ready to work through your issues).
  • Stay focused on the issue. Don’t bring up the past or bombard the person with their past mistakes.
  • If someone is angry with you, you obviously have no control as to how they approach you. As with any situation, the only thing you can control is your own reaction. It takes a lot of maturity to be the recipient of someone’s anger.

As they confront you, allow them to voice their concerns. If the discussion gets heated, you may be able to diffuse it by reflecting what is being said so that the other person knows that he or she is being heard. It can be helpful and strategic to admit your faults before explaining your position. Too often, as people defend themselves they forget to own their part of the conflict. If you know you were at fault it can be helpful to say the following: You are right. I was wrong. I am sorry. It deescalates the anger behind the conflict.

It’s important to remind yourself that life is trial and error and you are entitled to make mistakes. Regardless of who might be at fault, it’s important to handle conflict with integrity. The key is to learn from the incident so you don’t repeat it in the future.

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