Skilled thoughtful communication is the foundation for satisfying relationships. We teach effective, assertive communication skills along with conflict resolution and negotiation to individuals, couples and families.
RULES FOR HEALTHY AND FAIR CONFLICT RESOLUTION
Acknowledge that, when you are in conflict with someone—even someone you love, you will get angry. You are entitled to get angry. Learn to speak up. Do not deny the fact that you are personally angry. Fighting between husbands and wives is natural, as is fighting between parents and children. Do not be ashamed of fighting with your mate or with your children.
Remember, a fight between partners has the purpose of clearing the air and expressing deep feelings in order to build a more intimate, unified life. Keep your goal in mind—the goal of sharing your lives with each other. Keep in mind that your partner is your ally and not a gladiator fighting to the death. Use of these suggestions can help you gain a sense of control when you become angry or are confronted by an angry attack. At the very least, they will enable you to develop skills that will allow you to avoid becoming entangled in a “no-win” argument.
Overcoming our inclination to fight, flee or freeze while in conflict where emotions lead to hyper-arousal is a really important part of successfully resolving conflict. Don’t run away from your angry feelings or the angry feelings of your partner or child. At the same time it is important to learn not to “shut down” and stonewall, but, instead, to use your skills to maintain an assertive, engaged approach in any conflict and without becoming aggressive or overly hyper-aroused.
Continued practice will provide you with the potential ability to defuse the other person’s verbal assault and convert a potentially destructive encounter into an opportunity for a healthy exchange of feelings and the creative resolution of interpersonal conflict. Armed with these tips to guide your responses, you can let go of the no-win situation into a win-win one.
1. No ambushes. Fight by mutual consent. Make an appointment to talk: (a) for a certain time and place, (b) for a certain issue. Don’t insist on a fight at a time when one of you can’t handle this type of strain. A good fight demands two ready participants.
2. Present your argument sensibly. As preparation for the discussion, work out for yourself exactly what you want, and the reasons why you want it. Organize your arguments. Take time to consult your real thoughts and feelings before speaking. Your surface reactions may mask something deeper and more important. Don’t be afraid to close your eyes and think. Be sure that what you are asking for is really what you desire. Don’t try to solve problems when tired or sleepy, hungry, drunk or unstable.
3. Listen carefully to your partner. Every time your partner makes a point, restate the point in your own words to make sure you understand exactly what your opponent means. Before you respond to any point, check to be sure that you understand how your partner feels. Ask questions. Listen and keep listening (creative listening). Paraphrase what the other is saying, and check on perceptions so you understand what he or she is saying and thinking.
4. Stick to the issue in present time. Fight about no more than two related issues at a time. If side issues are raised, these must be laid aside for another fight. Past history is nearly always irrelevant. Don’t pin labels or negative attributes on your partner. (“You always…”, “You never…”) Limit this fight to this subject. Don’t throw every other problem into it; take them at a different time. Don’t dredge up past resentments, mistakes and faults about which you can do nothing. Do not overload your partner with grievances. To do so makes him or her feel hopeless and suggests that you have either been hoarding complaints and resentments or have not thought through what really troubles you. Don’t be an injury, injustice, or grievance collector.
5. Agree on what kind of behavior is acceptable. This needs to be negotiated between the couple. Some possibilities are acceptable posture (e.g. standing or sitting), tone of voice, etc. Physical violence violates all of the above rules for fighting by mutual consent.
6. Keep all arguments above the belt. Avoid knocking your partner down (putting him/her down). He gets more and more defensive and gets harder and harder to reach. By the time a couple has spent some time together each knows the sensitive areas of the other. They know just the area in which the other can be hurt. Attacking these areas is considered a foul against them. This assures that the belt-line is not dishonestly set higher than need be. In your lives together you discover each other’s sensitive areas. Don’t throw them at each other or throw back information given in trust. Don’t bring up past mistakes or skeletons.
7. Don’t overreact. While it is certainly appropriate and necessary to fight about relatively minor issues so that they don’t build up, do not fight with more force than the issue warrants. Be sure you have a legitimate issue or position to fight for. Shift your aggression from personal attack to the issue. Attack the problem, not each other. Are you hiding larger feelings behind something trivial?
8. Look for win/win solutions. When one partner feels that they have lost or have not been heard, resentment builds up, creating ongoing difficulty in the relationship. If one wins, the other loses and begins to build resentment about this relationship. That destroys, rather than builds, the relationship. Remember that there is never a single winner in an honest, intimate fight. Both either win more intimacy, or lose it.
9. Agree to disagree. If you can’t settle the issues, table it for a later, specific, and agreed-upon time. Often a complicated issue cannot be resolved in one setting. A temporary truce can often be helpful in rethinking one’s own position, cooling off, or simply recovering from fatigue. Time and place to resume the discussion should be agreed upon. Allow yourself to come back to the issue with mutual consent. Keep working for resolution in a rational manner. If you can agree, decide how to carry out your decision. Who will do what? Is there a deadline? If you later are dissatisfied with the decision, you must make an appointment for another discussion
10. Take Responsibility. Last, but probably most important, is to be mature enough to admit that you are wrong even if it is embarrassing and/or painful. Learning this lesson requires you to let go of having to be right. You may have to admit that you did something, said something or showed something about you that can be a threat to your own sense of self. Sometimes, your vulnerability is your strength and is necessary for your growth.
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