Making Things Right is greater than Proving You're Right: How to transform potential arguments into probable agreements.
Conflict. Arguments. Disagreements. Even saying the words sometimes can make you feel a bit tense. Did you notice how your shoulders might have raised, or your jaw may have clenched a bit tighter just now? That's because nobody is comfortable with conflict. However, it is a natural part of life, especially when you choose to build relationships with others.
No matter how close, how long-standing, how formal or informal, every relationship has the potential to reach a point of conflict. How we handle that conflict is what determines the quality and direction of our relationships.
So what is conflict?
Merriam Webster defines Conflict as:
Fight, Battle, War
Competitive or opposing action of incompatibles: antagonistic state or action (as of divergent ideas, interests, or persons)
Mental struggle resulting from incompatible or opposing needs, drives, wishes, or external or internal demands.
To be different, opposed, or contradictory: to fail to be in agreement or accord.
In a nutshell, conflict is no fun. However, nowhere in that definition did it say that conflict signals a lost cause. If we reframe our perspective when conflict arises in our relationships, we might begin to look at conflict as an opportunity to make things right. By making things right, meaning coming to some agreement on how to move forward, we choose to let our pride down long enough to truly hear the reason for opposition, identify our hopeful end, and work through the conflict with the other party. This is how we transform potential arguments into probable agreements.
We often get caught up in dealing with conflict when we are swept into the drama of wanting to prove we are right. When that happens, we are not listening. We are only asserting our position louder and louder, finding ourselves in yet another argument. No matter the relationship's nature, this creates added tension and makes it harder to come out of any exchange feeling like you've grown to understand one another better.
Here are a few steps to "make things right" (agree on how to move forward) when conflict arises in your relationships:
- Get calm and stay calm.
It is ok to take a minute to get to the point where you have a clear mind. When conflict arises, so do our emotions. Even when we aren't necessarily showing it on the outside, our hearts tend to beat faster, and our breathing may change. Our bodies may signal our heightened emotions differently, like flushed faces, sweaty palms, or hot earlobes, regardless of how your emotions may present themselves in your body, trust that the onset of conflict is most often coupled with heightened emotion. If you give yourself a chance to get calm before fully engaging in the conflict, you have a higher chance of making things right by resolving the conflict and hopefully growing the relationship.
- Identify the core of the conflict.
What about the situation at hand that is bothering you? It is important to be intentional by asking yourself your core issue with the disagreement, conflict, misunderstanding, etc. Is it because you feel something you demand from that relationship is lacking? Or that you are not being heard or considered? Were you mistreated, or were your feelings hurt? Were you impacted negatively by someone else's choices or decisions? There are so many scenarios or things to consider when you are looking to identify your core issue contributing to the conflict.
- Be realistic about what you want.
If you resolved this conflict positively, what would you want the result to be? It can be as simple as having a misunderstanding with a friend, realizing your feelings were hurt because you felt betrayed, and coming to the conclusion that what you wanted was for the two of you to understand each other better and stay friends. So again, pride aside, what do you want? Is there a common goal that you're hoping you and the other party can agree upon at the end of the conflict? If you've done steps one and two well, then you are hopefully past the point of just wanting to prove you're right and getting the other party to comply. If we are all honest when dealing with conflict, at the core, something is missing that we hope can be present in the relationship to move forward. That missing piece is what you want to identify and take with you to present to the other party.
View the issue from the inside out.
Was there anything that you did that could have made the other party feel mistreated, misunderstood, betrayed, or like you were inconsiderate of them? As much as we would like to think we are never to blame in conflict, if we look from the inside out often, we can find something we can do better to avoid future conflict with the other party.
- Be prepared to listen.
You're the right one, and they're the wrong one… we know. (wink) But what if it's not a matter of right and wrong. It is more a matter of two individual people with two different ways of functioning and communicating trying to understand each other better?! If you don't listen, how would you decipher the difference? Each party in the conflict needs to come with a willingness to listen to grow. If it is difficult, try bringing in a neutral third party to help ensure each involved party is using their best listening skills.
Use "I" statements.
Remember those core concerns and needs you identified? This is when they come into play. When communicating how you felt, what went wrong, and what you hope can resolve the conflict, refrain from playing the blame game. Using "I" statements focuses not on what they did or didn't do and puts it on what you need and would like to see to move forward.
Identify a common goal and commit to work together.
You won't always see eye to eye on everything, but we can find a common goal with others that can help propel us forward more times than not. If you and the other party have decided you would like to work together to resolve the conflict and grow the relationship, then a common goal will help set you on that path. For coworkers or teammates: if the common goal is to function well in your roles, utilize your strengths as the springboard to moving forward. For friends: if the common goal is to stay friends and help each other be the best version of yourselves that you can be, then start by making sure you are getting to know each other and set expectations you both can agree on for your friendship. For romantic partners (dating and/or married): be clear about your needs moving forward, make fresh commitments to each other, and work together to spark joy in each other.
- Move Forward!
Whether you've agreed to continue building the relationship or not, at this point, you know you have done what was necessary to give the relationship a chance to grow. For the sake of this post, we will hope for the best and say that now that both parties have decided to move forward and work together to build a stronger relationship, do just that; move forward!
The important thing to take away is that arguing is never as productive for building healthy relationships as working through the conflict and establishing agreements on moving forward. Instead of viewing conflict as the point in which we draw a line in the sand, let us see it as the point in which we can build a new bridge to better understanding.