It’s inevitable. When people come together, as a family, at work, at school, in neighborhoods, we’re not going to agree. We’re going to have differing needs, perspectives, ideas, beliefs, values and goals. In fact, conflict-the struggle due to these differences-is inherent in the human condition and necessary for change. And yet, few of us understand how to handle it. Conflict can make us feel stressed, giving us clammy hands, queasy stomachs and a desire to avoid whatever and whomever we see as the source of conflict.
I come from a family whose way of dealing with conflict is to get mad, stop talking and then die not having spoken for years. Perhaps it’s not surprising that I pursued an expertise in and have a passion for conflict resolution.
In my work I see conflict all the time. I’ve learned that conflict can be addressed in ways that honor yourself and others.
1) First, accept the situation and/or reality. “It is what it is.” Examine and understand what is happening and why-and what is your role in the situation?
2) Get comfortable being uncomfortable. When we don’t address conflict, we can become resentful of the people we view as the cause-or of the people we view as allowing the conflict to continue. That includes becoming unhappy with our “self,” if we don’t stand up for who we are and what we need. Choose short-term discomfort over long-term resentment.
3) Start with yourself and have the courage to:
• Be imperfect, vulnerable-let others see who you are; be open for emotional exposure, risk and uncertainty.
• Believe: “I’m enough. This is who I am.” in a self-accepting way.
• Be responsible-for your own behavior, role, attitude that may be contributing to the situation.
• Be authentic-be true to yourself, who you want to be and what you value.
• Be truthful about your feelings.
• Ask for what you need.
4) Respect and honor other people.
• Don’t be judgmental.
• Be collaborative-by contributing rational problem-solving ideas
• Use deep listening-to understand not only what people are saying, but what is behind their words.
• Show compassion-try to understand what the other person is experiencing, thinking, feeling and needing and do what you can to help.
• Forgive-be willing to forgive past behaviors and mistakes-yours and others-in order to move forward.
5) Remember that conflict can be a source of new ideas, innovation and improved relationships. Balance the tension, while creating a positive environment that honors the needs, ideas and perspectives of yourself and others.
Having the courage to constructively address conflict is key to having peace in your life.
Jean Morrison is a human resources consultant with an expertise in handling conflict and achieving peace. She teaches conflict resolution at the University of Minnesota.