Many people believe the best way to maintain a good relationship — with a significant other, a family member, friend, or co-worker is to simply avoid conflict.  Sadly, that is likely to be the truly worst thing to do. Avoidance works “in the moment”…..that feeling you dodged a bullet. However, the positive feel is momentary simply because the THING you were conflicted about is STILL THERE. And typically the avoidance adds to the difficulty. The conflict between the two people builds simply because of so many unsaid, unresolved issues or differences or simply unexpressed feelings/opinions.

    Consequently, walking away from the conflict typically accomplishes nothing but a build up of differences, and hurt feelings. So on the positive side? Conflict handled with skill, clears the air, and builds strength into the relationship. But healthy conflict is not for the un-schooled.  Meaning? You do need some skills, some understanding of how to listen, and perhaps most important, HOW TO KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT until you truly understand what the other person is saying. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to talk. It just means you have to be patient, listen carefully, and even ask for clarification to make sure you understand what the other person is trying to say…..all before you make your own thoughts and feelings known! I know, sounds truly hard. AND the things that are truly hard for us often produce the best results.

    You can start to learn how to be “better” at managing conflict on your own; however, I suggest you do some reading about the skills that facilitate the hard work.  CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS: TOOLS FOR TALKING WHEN THE STAKES ARE HIGH by Joseph Grenny et.al is a great start. And NONVIOLENT COMMUNICATION by Marshall Rosenberg is also excellent.

    Basics to start with:  1) listen carefully to what the other person says. 2) ask clarifying questions 3) See if you can repeat the ideas/thoughts back to the person with accuracy. That’s the part that tells you how well you are listening.  4) seek clarification and 5) when you believe you truly heard what the person said, state your own position. It also helps to take lots of deep breaths. And sometimes the pay off is when the other person feels truly listened to, he/she is able to do the same thing for you.

    Don’t be surprised to learn there are possibly many things you have not heard clearly….Further, don’t be surprised to learn you have feelings and thoughts and ideas you did not fully understand because the conflictual conversation that’s been avoided has masked some, perhaps many, of your own more thoughtful ideas and feelings.

    There is a zero guarantee in this process. It’s about giving it your very best efforts, knowing it won’t work easily, or even well, when you are just getting started. It depends on how much has gone unsaid between you and the other person.

    Further, try to be positive and reinforcing of the other person’s thoughts.  A NEGATIVE interaction sticks with all of us far longer than a positive. Remember this: Negative messages are like Velcro and positive messages are like teflon!  Further, one negative comment needs FIVE positive ones to balance the impact. Really? Well, that’s the research!  If you’ve already started thinking of a relationship that’s important to you and COUNTING all the negative interactions? Well, the positive “counter interactions” necessary can certainly add up.

    But remember this. If you are highly motivated, the rewards in successful conflict resolution just keep on piling up… You feel genuinely connected with resolution……even if you don’t always get what you want!

    One final thought: it helps to let the other person KNOW you are trying to be a better communicator…that you are trying to listen more carefully.  In other words, let the other know you are experimenting with new and better communication skills. And if you have questions and the books aren’t helping enough, you can always ask me!  You deserve to feel better!