Cindie Chavez – ©2018
Today, October 18, is “Conflict Resolution Day.”
When the multitude of conflicts playing out globally leaves me feeling helpless, I remind myself that I am not helpless to deal with conflicts that arise in my own life and relationships. Plus, I agree with the maxim “Be the change you want to see in the world.” – so learning some basic tools of the peacemaker has been part of my personal practice. If “Peace on Earth” begins with me then who knows what cascading effect conflict resolution in my own life could have in the world.
In the interest of making the world a more peaceful place, I’ve compiled five specific ideas that could be useful should you desire to resolve a conflict in your own life.
However, before we dive into the five ideas – I want to first ask you this:
How do you feel about having a difficult conversation?
You might feel like running and jumping off a cliff just reading that question.
Very few people enjoy the thought of being involved in an uncomfortable discussion. I get that – I’m an expert in this stuff and I don’t want to have these discussions either! But, here is why you might want to change your mind about this and be willing to have difficult conversations: Your success depends on it. Seriously – this one thing will support your success in every area of your life. So, let’s talk about that conversation you’ve been avoiding.
I admit it does seem a hell of a lot easier to just avoid the damn thing.
However, if you are avoiding it that probably means you are tolerating something. When we tolerate anything it causes stress. Stress causes disease. Disease causes death. See where I’m going with this? Warning: Avoiding difficult conversations may cause death.
Now, right here – as we’re talking about difficult conversations and tolerating stuff and stress I think it’s of utmost importance to address “niceness”. Specifically, injudicious niceness. Here is a powerful truth: “injudicious niceness is a socialized disease.” What does that mean exactly? It means that we are brought up (socialized) to “be nice.” To everyone. Always. Injudiciously nice. And that just doesn’t make sense because niceness isn’t always appropriate.
Thinking (or believing) that one should be nice all of the time is often what keeps one from being willing to have a difficult conversation.
If the willingness to have a difficult conversation is an important component to your success (in any area – parenting, relating, marriage, career, whatever) and you believe that you have to avoid certain conversations because it’s more important to be nice, then you are making a choice between being nice and being successful. Isn’t that silly? Certainly, you can be both a nice person, and a successful person.
And – one last thing before we dive in to our conflict resolution strategies: Name-calling (“Horseface!”), Insults (You’re an idiot!”), Curses (“F*** You!), Gaslighting (trying to make someone believe they are crazy by denying something that actually happened or inferring that they have imagined it – “What? I never said/did that!”) and the Silent Treatment are all forms of verbal abuse. None of these behaviors are part of healthy communication or healthy relationships, and they are not part of any comprehensive conflict resolution strategy. If you’re attempting to resolve a conflict with someone who is using these painfully inadequate forms of communication, you may want to create some boundaries upfront about what is and is not acceptable as you work things out. (I’m assuming you aren’t using these offensive forms of communication yourself! Because – Verbal abuse: NOT acceptable. Obviously.)
So, now that we’ve established the importance of a difficult conversation and we know for sure that we can have one and be both a nice person AND a successful person (not to mention that avoiding them can eventually damage our health) – Here are five ideas that will help your difficult conversation be a bit easier, and will allow you to resolve conflicts and create better relationships. And, it will probably be a lot less difficult than you may think.
1. Decide that you’d rather be happy, than right. I’ve heard it explained that there are two houses you can choose to live in, the one where you are experiencing Life and the one where you are Right. You can’t live in both places at once. The issue here is that we often enter into a difficult conversation with the goal of being “right”. And to prove that we are right, we engage in something called “wrong-making”. That is, to prove that I am right, I must prove that the other person is wrong. This elicits resistance in the hearer as she then begins to defend her own “rightness”. Here we go round the mulberry bush. “You are wrong!” “No, I’m not, YOU are wrong!” The moment we start down this road we are each competing for victim status. You wronged me. No, you wronged ME. (Nobody wants to be the bully!)
My guess is that most of us would unequivocally say “NO!” – maybe even, “Hell No!” if we were asked if we wanted to be a victim. And yet, as soon as we begin to defend our own state of “being right” by “proving” the other party wronged us, we’ve begun to claim victim status. This whole circus can be avoided by choosing to see the situation from a non-judgmental perspective, as if there is no right, no wrong. It just is what it is. Once you choose this better perspective, the energy around the discussion will completely change. (See No. 2)
2. Suspend judgment, for the moment. Realize that you don’t have all of the facts, and if you are certain that you do, pretend that you might not. Learn to observe instead of judging. The easiest way I know to do this is to make the conscious decision to not put things in “good” or “bad” categories. Just observe them instead. What if that thing you were labeling as “bad” actually turned out to be a good thing? What if the idea you think would be good actually isn’t? Curiosity is a powerful quality to employ here. It is difficult – if not impossible – to be curious and judgmental at the same time.
3. Know the difference between a need and a strategy. Sometimes, that thing we think we need, is actually a strategy we’ve devised in our mind – a plan or device to getting our actual need met.
One clue that reveals whether a “need” is actually a strategy: if you think that you need a specific circumstance to occur, or a specific someone to be, do, or say something to fulfill your need, it is probably a strategy you’ve come up with to get your real need met. We can find our self in a conflict with another person because we think we need that person to behave a certain way, when actually this is just a strategy we’ve become attached to that we think will get our need met. Often our real need could be fulfilled in many different ways.
When we stay open to the idea that there are probably multiple ways of getting our needs met (not just that one specific strategy we’ve become attached to) we’ll experience more possibilities and opportunities to get our needs met. Knowing what your need is and being able to communicate it is a powerful conflict resolution tool. When our needs are met we feel better. Sometimes the conflict we experience with another person is the result of an inner conflict we have because we have unmet needs.
4. Make your part of the conversation about you. Because it is about YOU.
You may be hesitant to make the conversation about you, because of the popular insult, “she makes everything about her” (implying narcissism), but I am not speaking of narcissistic behavior, I am speaking about being able to connect honestly with another person. And the only thing YOU can really be honest and authentic about is YOU, and how YOU feel, and what YOU think, and what YOU want. You can do this by using “I” statements instead of “You” statements. For instance – saying “I felt sad when this happened” will be met with much less resistance than saying, “You make me sad when you do such and such.” Remember, no one can “make you” sad (or any other emotion).
Your feelings and emotions are your responsibility. For this reason, it’s important to expand your “feeling word” vocabulary. Having a small vocabulary of feeling words limits our expression. There are many more ways to feel besides happy, sad, mad, and scared (although that’s a fine start)…and speaking of “fine” – please choose more expressive words than “okay”, or “fine”. Saying that you are “okay” or “fine” just doesn’t give enough information – besides the fact that we often use those words to camouflage our real feelings. Developing a wider emotional vocabulary is also part of cultivating empathy, as empathy begins with the ability to imagine how someone else is feeling in a particular situation. Being able to identify our own feelings is part of this process.
5. Learn how to be an active listener. Did you know that “being heard” is considered a basic human need? There is an art to being a good listener; the result of good listening is that the speaker feels heard. One thing that complicates this issue is the definition of the word listen. So often while one person is talking the person who should be listening is in actuality waiting for their turn to speak – and this includes all of the mental activity that goes along with that waiting game, including planning what to say when it is (finally!) their turn.
One sign of an active listener is the ability (and the willingness) to process what they’ve just heard AFTER they’ve heard it. Depending on the speed of the processor this sometimes produces a pause between listening and responding. This pause can feel unnatural and uncomfortable. In our media-driven culture, we are not used to this pause. In fact, in radio it is called “dead air” and it is a sin! We have trouble staying relaxed in the face of silence and try to prevent this uncomfortable situation by being ready to reply as quickly as possible. The problem here is that when we are planning our reply at the same time that our partner in conversation is speaking we are usually not listening as fully as we could be, instead, we are waiting for our turn. We could ask ourselves if we are actually good listeners or just good waiters? This might not be necessary for every conversation we have, but in the case of a difficult conversation that is undertaken for the express purpose of resolving a conflict, it’s a very powerful, compassionate, and efficient approach.
A simple way to facilitate active listening is to repeat back what you think you heard your partner say. Often you’ll be surprised that your interpretation missed the mark, and this gives the speaker a chance to clarify and the listener a chance to understand better. When it is your turn to speak you may also ask your listener to repeat back to you what they heard by asking them just that, “Can you tell me what you just heard me say?” Yes, this feels awkward at first, and it takes practice and patience, but it does lead to understanding each other better. When two people understand each other better they are communicating better, and better communication builds stronger relationships.
All of these ideas and tools take practice and courage. I want to encourage you to try them, and to stay with it. Mastering good communication is so worth the effort because the reward will be less conflict, better understanding, closer relationships, fewer tolerations, less stress, a better quality of life, more empowerment for both parties, and more happiness in general. You are worth it, your relationships are worth it, and the world is ready for all of us to begin.
Cindie Chavez is known as “The Love & Magic Coach”. She is the creator of MOONTREAT™, and she has some great free stuff for you at her website: www.cindiechavez.com
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Cindie Chavez is known as “The Love & Magic Coach”. She is the creator of MOONLIGHT™ – A Course in Manifesting Love and she has some great free stuff for you at her website: www.cindiechavez.com
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