About a week ago a former counseling client emailed me to ask if I could help her mediate a conflict she was having with her mother. Theyd been trying to work through things for over 9 months and seemed to hit a wall. Her mother suggested counseling and my name came up as someone who might help. The desired result was to get past the conflict so that their relationship could be restored in a better way.
Working through conflict can get very sticky. I believe it takes skill, finesse, resilience, a healthy self-esteem, and objectivity to be really effective in conflict resolution. I see it as an art - something you get better at with practice and increased self-esteem. When things become personalized, objectivity can go right out the window. I know that when conflicts arise between family members, close personal relationship and friendships, things can become painful, uncomfortable, and scary.
Common situations that often lead to conflict:
~ The Blame Game - finger pointing, accusations, buck passing, using excuses, defending, and explaining are all ways people deny taking 100% responsibility for what they create in their life. As long as we have someone or something to blame for our situation, we never have to look at our role in what happened. The fact is that we are powerfull creators and we are consciously and unconsciously manifesting all the time. In a conflict situation, questions to ask yourself are,
What was my role in this creation? What were my beliefs? Intentions? Expectations? Behaviors? that contributed to this situation?
~ Upset. The root causes are:
1. Unmet Expectations was it realistic? Was a clear promise made? Did you perceive it as a promise?
2. Undelivered Communication - what was unclear, assumed, unsaid?
3. Thwarted Intentions things happening out side of direct control.
~ Judgments and Self-Criticism - people arent who we want them to be. Were unhappy with ourselves. Things arent the way we want them to be. Inner turmoil and struggle creates stress, anger, frustration. Its exhausting and very painful. We all want to be unconditionally loved and accepted for who we are. Practicing compassion, tolerance and love for each others humanness (and ourselves), invites happiness and inner peace and offers healing and growth opportunities. We must become the change we wish to see in the world - Mahatma Ghandi.
~ Stuffing things for too long - sitting on something that is simmering will eventually start to boil and lead to a blow up. Thats what happened with my mother and daughter. Im an advocate for clearing things up as soon as possible. Withholding upset creates a gap in a relationship that widens the longer a person remains silent. One of the keys to clearing things up in a healthy way is the ability to hear things without taking it personally. This takes tons of practice and strong self-esteem.
When both parties can be in an objective space, having a conversation using these 4 opening statements can be a useful Model in conflict resolution. Notice the intentional omission of any accusations or blaming language?
In this model, YOU take full responsibility for your experience, interpretation and reaction as well as what you need to bring the experience to peace inside yourself. To be the most effective, let go of any attachment to what you want or need the other people to do or be. This is critical to offset high expectations.
1. This is what happened (from your perspective).
2. This is how I felt about it at the time (taking full responsibility to your reactions, interpretations, assumptions, feelings )
3. This is how it affected me (taking full responsibility to what happened as a result of how you felt, what changes might have occurred ..)
4. This is what I want from you now (which might be nothing, you just needed them to hear you, you want an apology ) Understand that what you might want might be offered and be prepared for your request to be denied.
These steps can be very therapeutic regardless of the result because it creates an opportunity to have a conversation where both people can express what happened, show up for themselves and be heard. Being able to show up and hear things that might be upsetting by remaining compassionately detached and present is a skill that takes lots of practice and high self-esteem.
Mutual respect, compassion, accountability, strong self-esteem, good communications skills and the willingness to grow as a person are key ingredients to having more successful conflict resolutions that build trust and safety in any relationship.
Finally - seek help if you need it. Sometimes we are just too close to the situation and need a third-party to help move things forward.