Resolving Conflict without a Manual

This is about some reminders that are quick to access when we find ourselves erupted in conflict. I sometimes use the word “I” to share these experiences with you.

Let’s start with what is this article is about, and what we can leave behind.

When someone is doing something I don’t like:

  • Is it impeding me? Can I walk away?
  • Do I have a relationship with this person and want to stay?

If you do not know this person, and if you can’t walk away, call for help. This article is not about violence intervention.

Meanwhile, if you do not want to walk away, here is a brief summary of what you can do.

Pause, breath, wait, listen, feel, faith…..

Self-Facilitative Process

Conflict erupts.  It happens.  Pause. Acknowledge to each other something isn’t right.  The reason we do this is because a conflict does not exist until both people are aware of it. If one person is miffed and the other person is unaware, that is not a conflict, and cannot be resolved.  The other person needs to be made aware.  

If both people acknowledge something is amiss and worth solving, self-facilitated dialogue is possible.

Decide who goes first.

Person A speaks. Center yourself. Be specific.  Include your feelings as a part of the information to convey.  Resist reacting to reaction emotion from the other.  Person B listens. Center yourself.  You will be hearing a perspective different from your own. Absorb the story. Resist interruption.  
Be Specific.  Tell the story like you are telling a detective who is there to help you solve a riddle.  Tell the story like you were an observer in the event rather than a participant.  What you saw and heard.Deep listening means putting aside your own perspective and listening to the details provided by the other to gain insight as to how you both got here.  You will have your turn.
Include your feelings.  And state as briefly as possible why.  This person is listening to you and may help you understand yourself just by allowing you to vocalize what happened and how it made you feel.  For example: “When I saw you hug that person, I became really upset, meaning frightened, and angry.  It reminded me of my last partner and how we ended it.Bring your compassion on line.  Again, you will have your turn to convey.  When the other person shares his/her feelings, it is important to resist getting lost in them (over empathetic) or in denial of them (invalidating).  Whether you identify with the feelings or not, understanding the other person’s feelings is a keystone to the solution.
Don’t take it personally.  Now is the time to communicate your point of view, and this may surprise the other person.  Resist taking it personally if the person reacts to your perspective.  Resist Reaction.  This may be the most difficult.  The impulse to interrupt and correct is strong.  “Use the force, Luke!” Instead of interrupting, resist taking the story personally and listen even deeper.  You are getting closer to a big clue of how to resolve this.  

When it feels to Person A has exhausted his or her point, check in:

Acknowledge you are finished explainingOffer to say back what you heard.  This shows person A you were listening and you comprehend
Be gentle with misinterpretations. Correct the other person without punishing them for not understanding everything.Break up your summary into pieces, and check in. As a different example: “So I hear you missed the training, and it was because I gave you incorrect information about the start time, right?” …. “From this you feel I embarrassed you.  You are concerned this may affect the organizers’ opinion of your reliability, am I right?” 
When successfully heard, let the other person know it. Make sure you concede that is all, and take your turn listening as the Person B role.One last check in to see if there is anything else.  Now it is your turn to speak your story.

Non-violent Communication

Changing the way we say something can sometimes make all the difference in escalating or de-escalating a situation.  While not the only purveyor of communication skills, Marshall Rosenberg put together the wisdom to unlock the reasons why our use of language can make things worse.  We as a society have gotten into the habit of expressing emotions in terms of actions.  The problem is – especially with unpleasant emotions – our expressions that substitute verbs for emotions 

1) are thinly veiled accusations, and 

2) assumes we know another person’s intent.  

We will be better at communicating our truth when we come back to words that describe our own experiences and feelings.

We can check our language when we ask the question, who is the actor?  For example: 

  • “I feel attacked!” literally means someone is doing the attacking.  Who?  The listener hears “You are attacking me”.  In fact, “attacked” is not a feeling at all – it is an action.  Who is doing the attacking?
  • “I feel challenged!” and the listener may retort, “I’m not challenging you!”  Again, is that what the person is doing or intending?
  • “I feel rejected.”  How does one know what is in someone’s heart unless someone says, “You are right – I am rejecting you.”
  • “I feel loved” – which is great.  I hope we all feel love.

Instead, maybe one of these is closer to the truth:

  • I feel hurt when you yell at me.
  • I feel angry when you question my decision.
  • I feel fear when you don’t answer my texts.

People don’t need to defend themself when one speaks their true feelings. “I’m angry” is not an accusation: it just is.

What are you feeling when you read those statements?  I just wrote them and I am feeling, wow that really puts me out there.  I would be vulnerable to actually having a conversation about how much fear I have inside.  I’m being honest with this person and realizing, it isn’t that person’s fault at all.  I got some work to do… as so on.

Yes, being honest with someone else might help us be more honest with ourselves, and maybe it is okay to feel a little need to breathe through that.

Which of these words are actions that can occur?  Which words express emotions one feels inside?











Remember:  The worst we can do is tell someone their experience is wrong. So if someone puts you on the defense by saying, “Your behavior makes me feel rejected”…. Pause. Breath. Wait for the emotion word and reflect that back.  “I hear you feel afraid I am rejecting you, am I right?”

Don’t Take It Personally

Because it is all personally – meaning, your experience is personal to you.  Another’s experience is personal to them.  Avoid taking on someone else’s experience as your own.  

When we “take it personally”, taking on more than our fair share, we confuse the problem.  Absorbing more than what is ours belies our responsibility in the situation as well as taking away the burden of responsibility from the other.  

When we take on more than we should, we are tacitly relieving another of their power to own their actions, feelings, or mistakes.  How are we to learn if we do not walk the path fully?  By remaining aligned with what is truly our responsibility and no more, the other person in kind is able to do this as well.  The truth – even if momentarily uncomfortable – still feels better than confounding the issue with false guilt, shame or blaming the other or yourself.  

I take it personally that our teenager doesn’t wash the dishes in the kitchen sink or pick up after himself in the bathroom.  Why?  I want to use those spaces, and I take his mess to mean he wants me to feel frustrated.  The truth: I am blocked from using these spaces cleanly.. To use them, I will need to clean up after him, which sets a precedent that when he leaves a mess, someone else will clean up after him.  The deeper truth:  That scenario is just my fear whispering to me.  I don’t know what he is thinking, and I cannot see the future of a learning teenager.    That fear is all mine, and I don’t have to borrow what might be another’s intent.

Pause, Breath, Wait, Listen, Feel, Faith…..

There are many paths to choose in resolving conflict, putting wrongs into correctness, addressing imbalances.  No matter what culture guides us or practices we use, most situations benefit from

Pausing.  With some exigent exceptions, most situations benefit from pausing before reacting.  A purposeful pause gives space for a thoughtful response to seed itself.  

Breathe.  All over the planet, traditions train in breathing towards calm, health and enlightenment.  Why not implement this quick, accessible practice in moments of stress, if not always?  Regular breathing calms the nervous system and helps the brain process.  Bringing consciousness to our breath and sound can enhance this re-balancing.

Wait.  Patience is called for the wisdom to glide in.  Assuming your body has not reacted yet to evolutionary mandates, ask yourself, what does your mind say?  Then ask, what does your heart say?  What your mind says may be influenced by “shoulds” or history or good advice from ancestors. What your heart says may be influenced by remorse or desires or kindness that forgets your boundaries.  What does your wisdom say?

Listen.  To others involved, to your deeper truth, to unexpected messages in the environment around you.

Feel.  Feel your body and honor your emotions.  Witness yourself as you would a child who doesn’t understand.  Let compassion accompany whatever you are feeling.

Faith.  Some of the best lessons I have learned in all the scuffs and scary conflicts I’ve been in are found in the unexpected gifts that come on the other side of the unknown   “Faith is believing when common sense tells you not to.*  Perseverance.  Admit you don’t know all the answers.  Come back to the reason you don’t want to give up.  All these heartfelt decisions come in faith that somehow, some way, a new truth will reveal.

* Kris Kringle, “Miracle on 34th Street”, 1947

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