3 things to know and do to get through conflict in your relationships

Today, 17 Oct 2019, is Conflict Resolution Day.  Hands up who hasn’t had some kind of argument that didn’t go so well in the last week… okay the last month then!  Why do you think that was?  Was it them?  Was it you?  Well, if you’re anything like me, hopefully you’ve learned by now that HOW you say what you say in a conflict situation can easily be the trigger for a whole new argument and things can quickly spiral out of control. So, whether or not we think it started with them, we all need to take responsibility for our part in conflict situations.  You know what they say, it takes two…

In this blog we take a quick look at 3 top tips for keeping conflict confined when it eventually rears its ugly head (and it will) – 1) to help you get ready for it however it comes, 2) to help you manage the situation during the conflict, and 3) to help you restore the connection afterwards – a really important step that most people overlook.

1) Effective preparation before “the battle”!

What do we all do in a conflict situation? The simple answer is we generally do what comes naturally to us. And the more intense the conflict, the more we do it.  The problem is what comes naturally to each of us is not the same… and it’s generally not helpful either!

Psychologists have long shown that people tend to behave in one of four different ways under pressure. They either push push push to WIN, they decide life is too short and they’re not going to win anyway so they YIELD, they decide this is too much for me to handle right now so they WITHDRAW and step away from the situation, or they seek to NEGOTIATE, Compromise or Barter. And no surprises, how we respond is largely driven by our personality type.

Most of us can see that winning, yielding or withdrawing every time there is a conflict situation is not going to be long-term helpful for the relationship. So, the appproch most people tend to conclude is okay is that of negotiating.  The reality though is that every one of these approaches is either “me-centered” or at best “you-centered”.  The problem is they aren’t focused on what’s best for “us”.

At this point in our workshops, I usually get someone say “But hasn’t negotiation been shown to be the basis of successful business transactions for decades… so what’s so wrong with it?” And I say two words “It’s transactional”.  Sure it achieves an outcome, but whether it is the best outcome for the relationship is an entirely different matter.  What generally happens in a negotiation is that both parties give as little as possible to get their way and typically end up settling for a half-way-house that doesn’t delight either of them.  If that’s what you want for your relationship, crack on!  But I suspect most people would like to come out of a conflict situation feeling great rather than just okay.  The question then is, how do you do that?

The answer lies in your mindset…

One of the best things you can possibly do before going into a conflict situation is to have thought through and written down a list of all the reasons why the other person is important to you.  If you can keep a copy on you to remind you even better, but you should be able to at least remember 3-5 points.

And the recommendation then is that you take just a moment at the first sign of any conflict to cast your mind back to the list and think, yes this is the same person that I value for all those reasons.  Then ask yourself, is this issue something really worth fighting about?  If you decide it is, then at least remembering the big picture should allow you to be careful with your response and think about what is actually best for the relationship, long-term, rather than just what is important for you, now.  That’s why we coined the phrase “Be CAREFUL, not crushing” in conflict situations as Habit #2 of our 4 Habits that ALL successful relationships exhibit.  We spoke about these in our TEDx Talk.

We talk about this in a whole lot more detail in our two online courses on Understanding & Minimising Conflict and Managing Conflict Effectively, but for now, recognise that given you probably have different natural conflict resolution styles to your partner, you’re going to want to commit upfront to not try and force them in the conflict to respond as you would want, but rather do what’s best for “the greater good”.  If they need time out, give them time out.  If you’re always winning, maybe let them win this time!  If you’re always going for a compromise, maybe let them win.  Genuinely adopt that approach (and I do mean genuinely) and I guarantee that you will get a better result.  Try it.  I’d love to hear.

2) “Fighting Fair” during  the battle.

Our second little tip of the day will also help you stop making things worse when the pressure is on!  Again it’s a bit of a mindset play, but now there is a conscious choice you need to make.  That choice you need to make is how you fill the gap between your EXPERIENCE of the situation and your EXPECTATION of it. 

Two things generally conspire against us here…

The first of these psychologists call Confirmation Bias.  It plays out like this.  Once you have decided in your head that the other person is wrong, you look for every reason to confirm why you’re right and they’re wrong.  And you dismiss any attempt they make to show why this situation was completely different.  It’s simple really, you’re right, they’re wrong and you’re going to prove it!  Sound familiar?

The second of these is what social psychologists call Fundamental Attribution Error, where we see what they did as being because they are a fundamentally flawed person – disorganised, lazy, cranky, moody, you choose your description!  If we were to do exactly the same thing however, it would be because the train ran late, we had too much on, we had a bad day, or some other positive #excuse.  In essence what we do is we say for us it was due to unfortunate “circumstances”, but for them it was down to their flawed “character”.

In both these situations the choice we make is we “Assume the Worst”.  And that is where the wheels start to come off because Assuming the Worst is at the heart of distrust and disrespect.  The healthy choice we need to be making in the heat of the battle is to stop and say to ourselves “I’m not quite sure why they said or did what they did, but there must be a good reason.  I’m going to go along with it until I can find out why”.

Now, I didn’t say it was going to feel easy to do, but trust me, it is possible… and the results make it all very worth it. The reason we generally tend to do the opposite, is we have this in-built fear of being made to look silly so we rather err on the negative side before things are proven that way.  The problem with that though is that that is very much the path of a downward spiral and things can easily spiral out of control.

So my challenge to you the next time a situation comes up in which your expectation doesn’t match your experience is to stop and “Think the Best”.  Think, there must be a good reason they did what they did… and let your behaviour line up with that thinking.  If you have a track record of reacting differently in the past – likely flying off the handle every time they have called to say they’re going to be late home from work – your changed approach may well get some quizzical looks, but I promise you your relationship will eventually feel better as a result.  Again, I urge you to try it, and let me know either in the comments section below, or by email.

3) Restore the connection after “the battle”

Now, as we started out by saying, this is not something most couples do.  Best case, most couple’s interpretation of the age old expression “kiss and make up” is “kiss and apologise”.  But I’m talking about going beyond that.  I’m talking about yes doing the warm, civil thing, but also doing something positive to celebrate.  To establish the emotional connection.  Now, of course, you don’t need to throw a party following each argument, but if it was a big falling out, I do recommend you do something significant 

– it could be going for a nice coffee to talk about things (other than the argument), or playing a game together, or a trip to the movies, or however else you both like to relax. The important thing though is that it is something you BOTH enjoy.

If your response is that you don’t both enjoy anything in common, I’d say you’re just yet to discover it!  I’d highly recommend you start your journey to discovering what that could be by taking our FREE online course on Improving Communication.  It will certainly help you understand what makes you both tick and what you can be doing to show each other appreciation in real, practical ways. It’s what we call Habit #4 of Successful Relationships – learning how to CONNECT, before you correct.

So, there you have them – 3 tips that should not only help keep you out of trouble going forward, they should also help you better deal with trouble when next it rears its ugly head.

Good luck putting them into practice… why not make it your year for Happy Conflict Resolution!

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