Conflict. The other 'c' word.
We've all been there: twisted guts, sweaty palms, a sense of impending doom. Though, on the surface, it may seem we are afraid of another's anger, more often than not, we fear our own.
Threatened by the power of our own anger, in conflict, we typically do one or more of the following:
2. Erupt in a fit of regrettable behavior
3. Quietly smolder with resentment
We respond this way, not so others will pay attention to us, but so we will pay attention to ourselves.
What we refuse to acknowledge comes to us as fate.
When we attempt to close the door on anger, it knocks louder until we turn toward it. In our fight to eschew conflict we beckon it closer, usually in ways that do not serve us.
Welcome conflict to the table and it will leave when its message is heard.
A few years ago, a friend was criticized by her supervisor in front of her coworkers. Angry and humiliated, her head became flooded with vengeful fantasies of quitting her job (in a dramatic blaze of glory), insulting her boss, or deflating the tires of his new Maserati. It felt wrong to act on these thoughts, but it felt equally wrong to do nothing.
Instead of communicating with her boss about the incident, she started showing up late for work and missing important deadlines. Her boss inquired about her change in behavior and the two had a productive conversation. Had this conversation never happened, my friend certainly would have been fired, fanning the flames of a victim story that undermined her strength.
Then next time you find yourself at interpersonal odds, here are six steps to help you get from frustrated to free:
1. Identify the rub. When you feel the gut punch of anger, stop. Count to ten (or 100). Break down the offensive interaction into factual steps and identify the resulting feelings.
As you do this, avoid giving away your power with assumptions about the other person (e.g., "He said that because he's got it out for me!"). Stick to the facts as you experienced them.
In the example above, my friend felt hurt, angry, and humiliated because negative feedback was given to her, in front of her peers, without her prior consent.
2. Determine the goal. You know what happened and how you felt about it, now it's time to figure out what you want the outcome of the conflict to be.
My friend wanted to avoid future embarrassment in department meetings. Though she could not control how her boss behaved, she could give him the information needed to avoid repeating the same scenario.
3. Determine the ask. Figure out what question or questions that, if asked, could help achieve the goal and/or provide greater clarity.
My friend wanted to ask her boss to schedule a private meeting should he have feedback about her performance in the future.
4. Determine the audience. Once you know what questions to ask, identify the person who most needs to hear them and set up a time to talk, face-to-face. Make a statement of the facts as you experienced them. Then share the ask.
Unless doing so would compromise your personal safety, always address conflict at its source.
5. Listen. Having asked the appropriate questions with the desired outcome in mind, it's time to sit back and listen. Keep an open mind and give others the benefit of the doubt. You'll be so much happier with the outcome!
Please note that it is never okay to yell or name call. You are entitled to end a conversation when these behaviors are present. Step away, breathe, and revisit the discussion when both you and the other party are calm.
6. Watch and wait. You've honored your anger by listening and responding appropriately to its message. So what now? Sit tight and observe. If either the situation of your outlook about it improves, you have achieved resolution. If the situation remains the same, consider repeating steps 1-5 and see what happens.
There will be times when nothing changes, despite our best efforts. This is actually a gift. Some conflicts are meant to help us change course altogether. Conflict should be a temporary stop along the way; not a permanent destination. If you're spending more time in conflict than contentment, it is time to consider walking away. If you've tried everything and nothing seems to be working, consider seeking professional guidance from a qualified therapist or counselor. Your peace of mind is worth the effort!
Because no two people think, act, or feel alike, there will be relationship discord from time to time. In honoring anger, we care for ourselves. In opening to conflict, we care for our relationships. Follow the steps above. Time and life will sort the rest out for you.
Got a good conflict resolution story? I'd love to read about it in the comments section below.
Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer. She offers dating consultation and counseling services in Seattle, WA.
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Dr. Jill Gross is a licensed psychologist, dating coach, and writer whose therapy practice is located in the Phinney - Greenwood area of Seattle, Washington. She has been providing counseling and dating consultation services since 2000.