Conflict is best handled by working it through – not by ignoring it and hoping it will go away or brushing it under the rug. But this isn’t so easy to do, of course. Most people feel uncomfortable with conflict, and feel anxious when faced with a difficult conversation. Most of us want good relationships with other people, and at some level, we worry that we will lose the relationship if there is conflict or we worry that we’ll be judged or rejected. Two common reactions to this anxiety are fight or flight. The first is the angry attack, the second is avoidance. Neither one works very well. It’s much better to work it through. Here’s a way to do just that, in three simple steps.
1. State the Context
The context might be obvious, but just in case it’s not, this is a good place to start. “Earlier, when you said I was over-reacting to what my boss said…” or “I’d like to talk about what happened when you were helping our son with his homework…” This helps the other person understand what specifically you’re trying to address, ensuring you’re both on the same page as you start the conversation.
2. Raise Your Concern
When someone does something that doesn’t sit well with you, it doesn’t help to criticize (“You always —-“ or “You never —-“ or “There you go again —-“). These criticisms are guaranteed to be met with defensiveness because the other person will feel attacked. Instead of criticizing, identify and state your true concern. People sometimes have a hard time identifying their true concern because they’re so used to pointing the finger at the other person. The true concern is usually a deeply felt emotion that resulted from the initial conflict or a pattern of behavior: “I’m feeling really hurt” or “I felt upset when …”.
3. Make Your Request
Next, identify what you want. Very often people neglect to do this or think the other person should figure out a way to make them feel better. This doesn’t work. You’ll get much better resolution when you figure out what you want and then ask for it. When approached like this, the other person is much less likely to feel attacked, and will therefore be less defensive and much more likely to give you what you’re asking for.
When there’s been a history of conflict, the other person might still be on the defensive for a while, until they learn to trust that you will not be attacking them, but instead are simply raising your concern and making a request.
Once you’ve stated the context, raised your concern, and made your request, then it’s time for the other person to respond. If accountability needs to be taken, there may be an apology and/or a commitment to do things differently going forward. There may be some negotiation as a workable solution is hashed through. In either case, using these three steps will help improve your communication and the overall health of your relationships with others