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Resolving the Top Three Reasons for Personal Conflicts

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There is no more perfect example of the stress response than conflict. Think about what you’ve learned so far about the fight-flight-freeze response (don’t know what I’m referring too, go here now). Can you imagine how it mirrors people’s reactions to conflict? People with the fight response come out aggressive right away and, almost as if intentional, see the need to be on offense all the time. While others are paralyzed by fear of even the slightest thought of a disagreement and find ways to vacate the premises right away.  Then finally there are the ones that simply stand and listen to conflict, not reacting or responding in any way, then quickly moving onto the next subject.

There are components around conflict that we want to understand if we are going to begin to reduce this stress trigger. They are the top three reasons why we all experience conflict in our lives, regardless if it’s with family, friends, colleagues, or strangers. When we understand these components the result is less stress, an increase in effective communication, and better alignment of values and priorities with others.

Three Top Reasons Conflict Arises

  1. Poor communication: People do not listen to each other—or accuse the other person of not listening. 
  2. Conflicting values: People do not understand each other’s values or find them difficult to respect and accept.
  3. Conflicting priorities: People do not spend enough time with each other or have different definitions of time; they have different visions of the future and different reasons for spending time and money.

These common reasons for conflict show up regularly in people’s lives and, rarely if ever, people have the awareness, skills, and tools to navigate the conflict without having escalation. Think about it, when in your life did you have a structured course or training on conflict management? Did you take it seriously and implement what was taught or were you being compliant with a counselor or employer, simply going through the emotions demonstrating compliance? Who taught you to argue so that it didn’t break trust, destroy relationships, and create permanent damage? How you answer these questions provides you incredible insight into your current level of stress response in this area.

Techniques to Increase Effective Communication

  • Set boundaries.  Name-calling, using absolutes (words like always, never, every time), a reliance on “you” statements rather than “I” statements, and free expressions of disdain and anger all increase stress and destroy trust. Communication requires trust and trust requires boundaries. When boundaries are set and respected, all parties can feel safe to share what’s really at the core of the discussion, which makes for a productive, albeit emotional, conversation.
  • Schedule regular chats. Set aside a time, perhaps weekly, when you can calmly discuss small frustrations. This proactive behavior reduces the probability that a full-scale conflict will arise while encouraging positive, and perhaps, deeper connections. Follow this agenda as a template:
    • Start with a positive check-in (15-minutes): What was the high point of this week? What is working? What are you excited about? What can you celebrate?
    • Share grievances (30-minutes): Follow the 5-3-2 Rule. One person starts by sharing for 5-uninterrupted, minutes about their frustrations. The listener can take notes or simply sit quietly with neutral, body language during this time. After the 5-minutes, the listener gets their opportunity to acknowledge, empathize, ask clarifying questions, summarize what they heard, and contradict by providing alternative evidence for an uninterrupted, 3-minutes. The original speaker now takes notes or sits neutrally, actively listening, followed by a 2-minute closing of the topic.
    • Then switch. Only three grievances are shared during any one chat.
    • Releasing (15-minutes): For the last 15-minutes, spend this time making commitments to one another, developing a plan of action, sharing compliments, and releasing any tension that might have built. Schedule your next chat.

TIP: If you find it difficult to speak or remembering your points under pressure, try writing things down in a daily journal as they come up. This way you won’t have to rely on memory or find the write words in an uncomfortable moment. And don’t be surprised that when you are referring back to your notes if things just don’t matter as much as they did when you wrote them.   

  • Actively listen. To truly actively listen takes intention, focus, and concentration. These things have a tendency to go right out the window when tension arises so actively listening in the heat of a moment requires practice. Increasing your ability to actively listen starts with the ‘pause and breath’ technique. Each time you find yourself wanting to interrupt, pause and breathe. When you’re instinct is to correct something someone has said, pause and breathe. When they are making accusations, assumptions, inferences that challenge your character, pause and breathe. These ever so slight moments can save you from escalation.
  • Change sides. Each of you pretends you are the other person and take that person’s side during a disagreement. You each assume that the other person is good-intentioned and you write down three reasons why the other person is right. The goal is to understand the other person’s viewpoint and to see yourself reflected in their eyes. Nothing allows for understanding more than a different perspective. 

TIP: Write down the arguments you have over and over to reveal patterns; who does the laundry, who works through lunch, who gets to take the car. Then write down each person’s side of the argument, documenting facts and evidence as they see it. In the middle of the paper, make a column that allows you to write potential underlying issues (don’t forget about the top 3 reasons for personal conflict), and some possible solutions you can suggest the next time the conflict shows up.

Techniques to Align Values

  • Know your own values. The first step in discussing values with someone else is to know your own. What is your attitude toward money, disciplining children, sharing time with family and friends, spending free time, and choosing a career? How do you feel people should treat each other and how should they resolve differences? What political, religious, and moral beliefs do you have? What is your responsibility to your community? When you can masterfully articulate your values and feel confident in your space, you can calmly express them and avoid feeling threatened by others. 
  • Do something together. When you share experiences, you have a chance to share values, including helping each other, respecting each other’s preferences, and defining enjoyment. Physical activity also improves your health and resilience and helps to work off any stress in the relationship.
  • Ask questions. Ask what the other person is doing or feeling in a situation; ask yourself the same questions, so you are prepared to understand where any misalignment is coming from. Sometimes when an argument occurs over and over, and both parties are deadlocked, it helps to ask a set of 5 whys, starting with why the person feels as they do and why a situation is happening. This technique has to be used carefully and with mutual consent so that no one feels interrogated or trivialized once you know the true “why,” the solution may be obvious.
  • Give thanks. Show appreciation to each other in words as well as deeds. You might set part of your communication time together to state what you are thankful for in each other and in the relationship.

TIP: A lack of appreciation for the other person’s efforts, feelings, and thoughts will doom any chance for a resolution of a personal conflict.

Techniques to Align Priorities

  • Talk about tomorrow. Set up a shared online calendar; post a weekly paper schedule, or send daily reminders about the important deadlines and events coming up and each person’s responsibility. Each person is responsible for checking the shared calendar and/or weekly schedule. No one nags, no one forgets, each person is able and accountable—it is all there in writing and easily accessed.
  • Talk about the next five years. Where do you each want to be five years from now? What is on your own wish list? What goals do you have in common and what can you do in the short-term to move you closer to those individual and shared goals, without spreading apart? Avoid discussing impediments; instead, look for solutions to any personal conflicts and paths forward that you can both accept.
  • Create a mutual vision for your future. What are your intentions regarding savings, children, retirement, healthcare, and end of life? Have you made a will, healthcare directive, retirement account, job description, promotion path? Are you interested in a further degree or a change in a career someday? Your vision for the future goes back to your values and how you intend to implement them together.
  • Win-Win-Win scenarios. Flexibility allows for aligning priorities. Perhaps you take turns in reaching a goal; perhaps you save money toward both goals; perhaps you compliment—for example, if one person loves to golf and the other person prefers skiing, you alternate vacation locations or aim to retire to a location that offers both.

TIP: Start with the values you both agree upon and build more of those into your connection. For example, if you both value family time make sure you have family time every day. After leveraging your commonalities identify those values where you differ slightly and come to acceptance on those. Work those into your individual and combined calendars. Now for the value where you totally compliment each other, find solutions where both parties can feel respected and accepted. This might need to be done on an individual basis so no hurt feelings or resentment.

Relationships That Are Not Worth Saving

Various therapists and psychologists have identified the signs when a relationship is not worth fighting for, including physical and mental abuse and a refusal to seek help for personal problems that are beyond the ability of the other person to handle.

If you are in a relationship that is not worth saving, it is up to you to decide what to do about it: stay, leave, cut the relationship off entirely or in part, or seek help for yourself. Both you and the other person deserve the clarity of a firm decision; sitting on the fence only ensures that the relationship will worsen, the personal conflict will intensify, and neither of you will grow.

Key Takeaways

Resolving personal conflicts requires good communication, an understanding and sharing of values, and agreement on priorities, including each person’s daily responsibilities and vision of the future.

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