Moving to the center of conflict

Chess pieces facing off

One of the hardest things to navigate in a relationship is conflict.

Not because it’s so difficult to resolve but because so few people are willing to to actually deal with conflict directly.

Passive aggressiveness are those indirect ways that we communicate to the people in our lives that there’s a problem to be solved.

Instead of approaching the issue with honest feelings, we let our actions speak for us. This puts us in a game of “guess what I’m feeling and I’m very angry that you can’t see what I’m feeling.”

This kind of interaction almost always misses the mark.

On the other end are people who go out of their way to avoid conflict altogether. They will take the responsibility for things that don’t belong to them just to keep the peace at any costs.

In both of these cases, conflict is seen as a threat.

If I tell you how I’m really feeling, then you may get upset.

And I may not know what to do with that.

Instead of coming to you with the idea of resolving the issue, I place my hope in the conflict magically going away.

That almost never works.

You may be able to slide by for a bit dancing around the issue but it almost always comes up in some way, somehow.

  • Your frustration with your boss works you up so much that you decide to leave the company looking for a less war-like situation.
  • Your spouse suddenly tells you the marriage is over and you didn’t see it coming at all because you had no idea there was even an issue.
  • You stop talking to your best friend because she made you really angry when she made that comment last month about your kids.

In each of these cases, there is a loss of an important relationship.

In each of these cases, issues boiled under the surface but never made their way to where you could interact with them and figure out what’s going on.

You just find out when you see the water suddenly moving and the steam burns you.

That’s the result of poor conflict resolution.

You see, the most important thing in your relationships isn’t communication.

I think we all know people who communicate constantly but never really say anything.

The most important thing in a relationship is the ability to resolve conflict. That’s where progress in a relationship happens.

Taking time to resolve an issue with someone means that you both put something in this and that you’re both invested in the relationship getting better.

Resolving conflict together brings you closer.

It forms a bond in the relationship because now you’ve been through something together.

Healthy relationships aren’t based on how well you get along. They come from the ability to hear and validate others in spite of your own feelings, and to have others do the same for you.

That’s not something to run from.

So how do you approach conflict in a way that grows your relationships?

A big way to start is to speak from your own experiences and emotions.

When we’re angry with someone, it’s so tempting to assign motives to their actions. That’s usually the first thing we want to get into when we do decide to approach someone.

And it’s the thing that makes conflict blow up, the thing we hate about it the most.

We make comments like, “You always make me feel like that.”

That’s a quick way to put someone on the defensive.

Instead of focusing on their actions, describe the actual emotion you felt as a result of that action.

“When you speak to me in that tone, it makes me feel hurt, angry, sad,”…whatever.

Describe your specific emotions without assigning motives. You’re just a reporter of information about you.

While they may not agree with you, they can’t take away your feelings. You own those.

Then, let them respond.

When they do, listen to understand, not to reply.

This is really hard.

We’ve all had those conversations where we’re crafting our witty response while the other person’s talking.

You may come up with a great response, but you just missed a whole bunch of great info coming from them while you were inside your own head playing speechwriter.

You’re listening so you can come up with your own response instead of really hearing them and validating their feelings.

That doesn’t help them feel heard either.

Listen to what they have to say and summarize it back to them to make sure you got it right.

This is an easy way to actively listen because you’ll have to pay attention to make sure you don’t miss something.

It also allows them to clarify the details so they can walk away feeling heard.

Above all, lean in to your own responsibility to keep the relationship healthy.

So many times we wait for the other person to kind of “get it” and come to us first.

If you value the relationship at all, you may need to make the first move. Maybe that doesn’t feel fair, especially if you feel like you’re not in the wrong here.

But making the first move says that you value this relationship enough to get this process going, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Waiting only serves to let the issues continue to bubble and increases the chance of a much bigger event later.

Besides, you’re part of this relationship and it’s on you to do what you can to keep it healthy. You play your part, too.

What the other person does or doesn’t do is on them.

The best part about approaching conflict in this way is that once you engage, you find that there are some things you just didn’t know.

You get knowledge that can help you understand their perspective sooner instead of stewing over assumptions and assigning motives.

You may not like the knowledge you get, and that’s fine.

Maybe you do decide to make a drastic change in the relationship after walking through this process.

But at least you can make a more informed decision before you just shut everything down.

Conflict resolution allows you to keep the air clear so you can move ahead together as a team instead of viewing each other with suspicion and anger.

This is the price of admission for healthy relationships.

It requires some humility and intention but it can bring you closer to more satisfying relationships.

Isn’t that all any of us want?