Respectful & Successful Conflict Resolution

Children remember their parents fighting; the harsh words, raised voices, and even the long, tense silences – and I am no exception. They know that no one threw a punch or was physically hurt and yet, somehow, these unhealthy arguments are as painful to children as signs of abuse. In a way, they are: they represent disrespect and distrust.

Unhealthy Conflict
When two people are unable to air their differences and discuss them reasonably, they demonstrate that they do not care for each other’s feelings and that they don’t trust each other to listen lovingly. Speaking honestly and reasonably makes a person vulnerable to attack (or seems to) if he or she does not know how to resolve conflict.

Types of Conflict
Sometimes a third party is required to mediate, especially if an argument arises out of another person’s jealousy and has no basis in fact. This kind of conflict can easily escalate out of control and into physical abuse. Other forms of conflict are just normal arguments about perceptions of or positions on something that happened or an idea. These arguments can be resolved in a civil manner with a little help.

A Gentle Approach
Too often, couples, siblings, and friends attack when what they need to do is approach a subject gently. Consider not just what you say but how you say it; body language and volume. Ask the other person to sit down and do the same, meeting eye to eye so no one seems to dominate. Modulate your volume and try to keep from yelling. If the other person doesn’t want to behave the same way, offer to talk again later when he or she has calmed down. Another good idea is to start positively: “I know you didn’t grow up with good role models so you probably don’t realize, but it hurts my feelings when you put all of my opinions down.”

Make “I” Statements
It is disrespectful and wrong to tell a person what he or she is thinking, even if you believe you know the answer. All you can do is reflect how you feel when something happens. “I feel hurt when you ignore my ideas all the time.” Also, remember that no one can make you feel or do anything. A statement such as “You make me so mad” is wrong: anger is a secondary emotion; a choice. You have the right and the ability to decide to be angry and to expose yourself to another person’s behavior. A better phrase would be “I feel angry when you call me names.” In this way, you acknowledge the problem, but also retain control over what to do about it: let the issue continue or walk away until the other individual behaves differently. Avoid making ultimatums, however, until they are truly necessary.

Agree to Disagree
Different opinions make for interesting discussions. Perhaps there are subjects you feel strongly about and you want badly for the other person to see things your way. Bullying him into agreeing is unhealthy and unproductive, however; sometimes, two people just have to agree that, for the time being, they see matters differently from each other. Good examples are religious and political views. While it is valid to express thoughts and feelings and to try and win a convert to your party or faith, bullying another person into agreement is abusive. If you can’t agree, respectfully back away from a discussion before it becomes an argument.