I have believed for a long time that most extended conflicts are counterproductive. Conflict may be useful in the beginning, because it points out to us that someone is unhappy with the way things are. That should be the signal to get into problem-solving with a win-win orientation.
However, that is not generally the way it works. Most people are uncomfortable with conflict, and tend to get into emotional or defensive reactions. This extends the conflict, and often expands it to include other arenas of life, not just the current situation. So “You forgot to take out the trash this morning.” becomes “You never help around the house.” and if the conflict continues this in turn can become “I don’t know why I married you, I’m sure I could do better!”
So what do we do if we do not agree with a charge that has been directed to us? Debating the point, unless all parties are incredibly patient and polite, usually creates a lot of anger and frustration. We know there are two sides to every story, and both parties are certain that their version is the most correct. How then, do we get to peaceful resolution when we can’t even agree on the “facts”.
Well, there is a way to bypass the conflict, which allows all to remain in their highest selves and also focuses on solutions. It goes like this, if your partner tells you, for example, that you are watching too much T.V., and you really don’t think you are. Instead of arguing the point, you ask yourself, “If this were true, what would the solution be?” Well, it might be to watch less T.V., or it might be to watch less when your partner is around . Your partner may really be telling you that he/she wants more of your attention. Often we cannot decipher the hidden meanings, or they may even be out of the awareness of the one making the comment.
If your child says, “You never play with me!”, and you choke because if you play one more Sesame Street Game you’ll go crazy, instead of telling the child that he/she is suffering from delusions, you ask yourself. “IF this were true, what would the solution be?” Now it might be playing more with the little one, or it might be finding out what specifically you have been judged as not playing enough of. Perhaps the message is “You don’t ever play outside with me.” Another solution might be a simple as planning the play times at the beginning of the day, so the child knows exactly when you will be available.
When an adolescent says, “You just don’t understand me!” Instead of saying “That’s because you’re so strange.”, you can say to yourself, “IF that were true, what would the solution be?” The solution in this case might be to ask, “What is it exactly , that you think I’m not understanding.” You might also decide to sit down and listen to your teen, with only one agenda: to understand their point of view. Often we are so busy formulating our responses or preparing our objections that we truly have not understood their feelings on an issue.
So there you have it. An effective way to move into problem solving before the conflict gets out of hand.
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