Conflict with someone you care about (or have to work with), can make the stakes for satisfactory resolution very high. How you handle the situation affects not only how you feel about yourself, but also how the other person feels about you. Swallowing your needs may lead to resentment. Lashing out may damage the relationship.
So how do you speak up for yourself, listen to the other person, and manage to keep an openhearted connection when you are in the middle of a heated disagreement?
Deepak Chopra says that through mindfulness, we can begin to develop ”the ability to calmly and objectively observe a situation, acknowledge when we are being triggered and choose how we want to respond. Instead of feeling stuck in knee jerk reactions and conditioned patterns of behavior, we free ourselves to make choices that will help us fulfill our deepest desires for love, fulfillment and happiness.”*
That really resonates for me. There are several mindfulness practices, including self-empathy that help me to consult my heart before acting on emotion. In so doing, I get the chance to express myself with compassion– for myself - as well as for the other person, rather than responding out of anger, guilt or fear.
Following this path doesn’t mean giving up on what you want. It also doesn’t mean ignoring the needs and wants of the other person either. Considering both sets of needs is important when you care about the relationship.
At times when it seems easier to clam up or lash out, consider whether either of those actions will deliver a peaceful, satisfying result. When the answer is no, investing the energy to calmly engage can be worthwhile. Once committed, here are some tips that can help guide you through a connected interaction:
- Take time to self assess. A deep breath and a brief time-out may enable you to connect with your feelings and needs. Sometimes saying, “This issue is clearly very important, and I really want to talk about it with you. Can you give me a minute to get my thoughts together?” may be just what you need to center yourself.
- Focus on the issue, not the person. Avoid name-calling and personal attacks to reduce the likelihood of hurt feelings.
- Acknowledge feelings. Respectfully listen and acknowledge the person’s feelings, either verbally or by giving them undivided attention. Be careful not to tell someone that he or she “shouldn’t” feel a certain way. Also try saving your point of view until after the other person knows that you understand how intensely they feel about the issue, even if you don’t agree with their point of view.
- Try curiosity not defensiveness. Avoid defending yourself by proclaiming innocence, or rightness, or by attacking and blaming the other person. This escalates a confrontation. Instead, ask for more information, details, and examples. There is usually some basis for the other person’s complaint and these questions can lead to a better understanding of what the issue is.
- Give/Ask for specifics. When you or the other party has complaints, ask for (or give) specific examples so you can both get greater clarity.
- Find points of agreement. Usually, a conflict has points of agreement. Seek places where your needs match the needs of the other person. Finding common ground, even if it’s simply agreeing that there is a problem, can contribute to a solution.
- Consider many options. Invite collaboration and resolution by offering and asking politely for suggestions and alternatives. Carefully consider each suggestion and be open to trying an approach you might not have previously considered.
And remember, with any important relationship, conflict resolution is not about winning. It’s about taking care of you while seeking solutions that meet needs for all involved parties. Take a deep breath - and good luck
*Quotation from Oprah Winfrey's 21-Day Relationship Meditation Challenge document Day 16.