Dealing with difficult people and conflict is hard, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Whether at work with coworkers or at home with your family, learning to work through difficulties is a skill we all need for our own mental health and the mental health of others. We are in the middle of a 3 week series about the 3 crucial life skills our culture is void of today. Last week I covered the first one, being able to emotionally regulate yourself. If you haven’t had a chance to read it, I would suggest reading it first and then coming back to this one.
This week is the second crucial skill we need in order to manage difficulties in relationships or people who are hard to handle.
Communication can make or break relationships experiencing conflict. Good communication can put out small fires that could potentially turn enormous.
I have learned in my experience that everyone wants good communication, but many don’t know how.
When conflict arises, there are well meaning people who,
- Put their face in the sand an avoid conflict at all costs.
- Try to fix everything right away, sometimes making matters worse.
- Can’t express their honest feelings to those involved, but gossip to everyone else later about how they truly feel.
- Rampage everyone around by overreacting to the situation, often causing incredible harm.
None of these are helpful. We cannot avoid hard conversations and conflicts. We have to be brave to face them. HOW we face them is important. Here are three ways to manage conflict.
Before you respond, STOP. You don’t need to respond right away. In fact, responding right away doesn’t allow us to pause for perspective. In the heat of the moment we are guided by our emotions, not facts. Wait until you feel calm and have a good perspective regarding yourself, but also regarding the others involved before you initiate a conversation.
If you can empathize with the other person and see the situation through their eyes, you’re probably ready to talk. If you can’t, you may need to wait a little longer.
Empathizing with the other person doesn’t mean you think they are right, it means you can see where they are coming from. When you can explain the situation to someone from their perspective, asking if that is the way they see it, you can most likely dispel the entire conflict right there. When I explain a conflict back to my son through how he may have seen it, it disarms him. It doesn’t mean he was right or wrong, I just created a space where he felt understood and more ready to talk without defence.
Before you speak, you need to get clear on a couple of things:
- what are you feeling?
- what do you need?
- what is your concern?
- what would help?
I love what Brene Brown says, “Clear is kind.” Don’t beat around the bush. State these three items as clearly and as kindly as you can. Being clear is important, but so is stating it kindly. Avoid attacking or assuming the motives of the other person. Approach them kindly and you’ll find they are more likely to be open to what you have to say and to come to a resolution.
It also wouldn’t be right to forget these simple common sense strategies in strategizing communication:
Never try to resolve a conflict over text or email.
Never engage in conflict resolution after work hours or if at home after 9:00pm. Emotions are higher at night.
Some problems can be solved just by the first two steps, other problems may take time and returning to stopping and strategizing as new things arise. Don’t give up when conflict takes time.
Sometimes solving the problem means walking away from it or the person for a time until the matter can be resolved. It’s only human that our emotions become too much for us in conflict. Time away may be needed.
At times, the problem may need a third party involved to see if they can navigate the disagreement towards peace.
And sometimes conflicts don’t get resolved and we have to close the chapter at a workplace or relationship in order for us to move forward for the sake of our own health. You know you are at this place when you have done all you can to Stop, Strategize and work towards Solutions with no luck.
Using this SOS method allows you to see your relationships thrive instead of allowing yourself to come bitter, angry, or someone who hides from conflict. It’s not a matter of “if” conflict will happen in your relationships, it’s “when”. The more you know how to navigate the hard waters of conflict with courage, the more resilient and free you will feel.
Next week I will be covering the third crucial skill we all need, but many struggle having.
Boundaries. I can’t wait for this one.
As a connection coach, I love helping workplaces, families and schools learn how to connect better. I can come to you with the seminar version of this blog post. Let me know if you and your team, family, or school are ready to learn how to create a healthy environment. I would love to help.
You can reach out to me here.