Many of us bristle when we hear “conflict.” Some people thrive on it, but most of us take detours to avoid it. Why do we do this? If we had techniques to help us deal with conflict, perhaps we’d be better equipped to compromise while being true to our position.
One of my clients is dealing with a difficult situation and struggling to find a way to resolve the conflict within her before it destroys her marriage. Lilly is a hard-driving attorney with a successful practice. Her husband, David, is an equally successful writer who is struggling to find his voice. He is a little burned out, and he’s decided that he needs to take some time to regenerate. In his fantasy world, Lilly would take time out from her career, and together, they would find some time to enjoy life again.
Unfortunately, Lilly isn’t on David’s time frame. She’s at a crucial point in her career, and she believes that it is very important to stay on track. She understands David’s need to recharge, and she has given him permission
to take a time out. The problem is that David is beginning to feel hurt because Lilly works at least 12 hours a day. He’s tried to be rational, but it hasn’t worked. He resents Lilly for paying attention to her career, and, in his mind, deserting their relationship for the sake of her profession.
Lilly senses David’s resentment, and she is beginning to feel the stress of trying to appease him while continuing to manage her overloaded work schedule. The situation is dangerously close to exploding into a full-fledged conflict.
David and Lilly need counseling to resolve their differences. Lilly is the avoider, and David is so frustrated that he is ready to deal with the situation. There are many techniques that could help both of them face the conflict and work toward a peaceful solution.
We’ll explore some of the following techniques in detail.
- Active Listening
- Ground Rules
- Negotiation Strategy
- Anger Management
Active listening will give each of the partners a sense that they are being heard and understood. This can go a long way in helping to alleviate some of the pressure.
Active Listening Techniques*
|Type of Statement||Purpose||To Achieve Purpose||Examples|
|Encouraging||1. To convey interest.
2. To keep the person talking
|Don’t agree or disagree.
Use noncommittal words with positive tone of voice.
|1. “I see…”
3. “That’s interesting…”
|Restating||1. To show that you are listening and understand.
2. To let the person know you grasp the facts.
|Restate the other’s basic ideas, emphasizing the facts.||1. “If I understand, your idea is…”
2. “In other words, this is your decision…”
|Reflecting||1. To show that you are listening and understand.
2. To let others know you understand their feelings.
|Restate the other’s basic feelings||1. “You feel that…”
2. “You were pretty disturbed by this…”
|Summarizing||1. To pull important ideas, facts, etc. together.
2. To establish a basis for further discussion.
3. To review progress
|Restate, reflect, and summarize major ideas and feelings.||1. “These seem to be the key ideas you have expressed…”
2. “If I understand you, you feel this way about the situation.”
* Source: Poynter.org
Although apologies are not always necessary in conflict resolution, sometimes it is important to acknowledge that one of the parties may be injured. An apology involves the acknowledgement of injury with an acceptance of responsibility, affect and vulnerability. It is repair work. And in the case of David and Lilly, David needs to acknowledge that his fantasy to have Lilly join him in his sabbatical put them in the situation they are facing today.
If we forgive, we have the power to be liberated from the past. So why are we so reluctant to grant it? Psychotherapists say that forgiveness is harmony, but how do we forget about the voice in our heads that is screaming an eye for an eye? How do we protect our dignity if we forgive?
These are tough questions. We need to balance the struggle in our heads between the urge to get even and the need to move on. Ultimately, it is more nurturing for our mind and spirit to forgive. At some level, we need to be able to face the fact that some things can’t be changed. Sometimes it means that we have to face the truth about ourselves. Ultimately, the responsibility to forgive, whether we continue the relationship or not, rests squarely on our shoulders. The real courage occurs when we are willing to set our ego aside for the sake of moving forward.
One out of five Americans has an anger management problem. Anger is a natural human emotion, and it prepares us to “ward off” a perceived attack or threat to our well being. The problem is not anger; it is the mismanagement of anger. When we avoid anger and rage, it becomes the major cause of conflict in our personal and professional relationships. For example, the anger will manifest itself in domestic abuse, road rage, workplace violence, divorce or addiction.
If you suspect that some of the conflicts in your life are being caused by an anger situation, take a look at the root cause and look for ways to channel your anger in a positive way.
Andrea Brandt, Ph.D. is a licensed Marriage, Family and Child Therapist specializing in couple counseling, divorce, custody issues, and women’s concerns. She is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.