5 Hard Questions to Ask Yourself During a Conflict
It happens more often than is polite to admit. A versus B, you against me. We do not agree, so I’m pissed, so I go home and practice that age-old art of Placing the Blame Squarely on the Other Side.
Oh, it’s so easy. It feels justified — cathartic even — to wait for the other party to see the light, to undergo metamorphosis, to fall to their knees and realize their folly. How obvious in hindsight! How strikingly clear! Of course it was you all along who was the gleaming Paragon of Rightness!
Too bad it doesn’t always play out like that. If you were, in fact, 100 percent correct every single time there was a conflict, you’d have the statisticians boggled. Every conflict is, as they say, a two-way street. It can’t possibly always be the other person’s fault. And even if it is, or you aren’t sure if it is, why sit around waiting for things to get better? A knot does not simply untie itself. You have complete control over one end of the relationship. So take an active approach to settling the conflict, and ask yourself these 5 questions instead:
1. Do I actually disagree with what the other person is saying?
4 times out of 5, when I ask myself what’s truly bothering me, it’s not that you and I can’t agree about the specifics — whether this particular design needs better hierarchy or a tighter execution, whether I’ve been late to a lot of meetings recently, whether I’ve been letting the dishes pile up in the sink. If I’m to be perfectly honest, I know that this isn’t my best design, and I’m always late, and Thursday’s dishes are pretty disgusting to still have around on Sunday. All of these things are true.
And yet, something about the manner in which you said it rubbed me the wrong way. Perhaps your tone came off as rude or contemptuous. Maybe I think that you think I’m incompetent or lazy. It could be an eye roll, or a lip curl, or the fact you said it at all. Maybe I’m paranoid, or maybe you were in fact acting like a Class A Douchebag.
But see, all of those reasons do not serve as an excuse. If you are making good, valid points, they are good, valid points. Period.
This is the most important lesson I have learned about conflict: Separate the point from the person. Take the former as empirical, and respond first and foremost to that. (“Yeah, it’s good feedback on the hierarchy. I’ll take another stab at the design.”) Compartmentalize the latter and save that for a separate discussion. (“Hey, when you use that skeptical tone of voice to ask me about my work, it makes me feel like you don’t trust my decisions. Is that true?”) If you can successfully do this, not only will you be much happier, you will always be making the best decisions in and of themselves. Because at the end of the day, good points are good points, and you can't argue against what’s in the best interest of the relationship/company/community.
Now, this isn’t to say you should let jerks continue their reign of terror and walk all over you — jerkish behavior should always be dealt with. But don't conflate the point that is being made (which may be a good point) with the attitude of the person making it.
2. Can I fairly articulate the other person's point of view?
If my first inclination during our disagreement is to call up a friend and begin a rant with, “He’s bat-shit crazy. I have no idea why he’d say/do that, clearly he’s smoking something or he maybe he just possesses the IQ of a snail” — it’s a sign I have absolutely zero context on why you’re doing what you’re doing and have not stopped to think about it or ask you. So instead of overdramatizing the 2,395 ways you might be insane, why don’t I try and understand what's actually making you tick?
Now, there’s a chance that even after more extensive research, the conclusion doesn’t change — said person is, in fact, crazy or low-integrity or possessing of a puny intellect. Fine. Then proceed accordingly, and don't give up the good fight.
But those are the rare, rare cases. Generally, people are good. And smart. And acting in a totally reasonable way. Most of the time, when you dive in deeper, what you’ll find is that you were lacking their perspective. And had you known what they knew, or seen what they saw, you too might have ended up with their opinion.
You can't even begin to resolve a conflict unless you understand why the other side thinks the way they do. So put some effort into figuring that out before you start questioning their mental aptitude.
3. Did I make myself clear?
Just like it’s hard to solve a conflict if you don’t understand the other side, the same is true in reverse. If you’ve left any room for misinterpretation or ambiguity in your point of view, fix it. Write an e-mail. Shoot over a message via chat. Set up some time to talk in person. Be exceptionally clear.
As someone who works in what’s generally considered a “subjective” field, my world is one of impassioned debates and product reviews. Every week, I participate in meetings in which we hash through disagreements about product direction. Having experienced both “winning” and “losing” too many times to count, I’ll say this — it stings when you can’t convince the other party of your point of view, but there is comfort in a fair process. When I know that everyone in the room has heard and internalized my arguments, even if the final decision swings the other way, I can sleep easy knowing the call was intentional and made with all the information on the table. The times in the past when I’ve been resentful or upset were when decisions were made with incomplete information — times when I failed to express my point of view clearly enough, when I should have taken the fifteen minutes or so to write it all down, provide clearer details and data, or follow up on making sure the understanding was there.
4. Would I be comfortable saying what I'm saying to the other person in front of a group?
If the answer is “no,” I need to stop talking. Now. Immediately.
There is no excuse for shitty behavior, for cursing or lobbying personal attacks or losing your temper in the heat of the moment. Acting respectfully is non-negotiable. If you’d be embarrassed to learn that your words were recorded or quoted or broadcast publicly later on, it’s a sure sign that you need to take a deep breath, stop talking, and continue the conversation later.
5. What would happen if I lost?
Be honest. If the answer is “nothing, but my ego would be bruised” — and there is little to no negative impact of not getting your way — ask yourself: Is the argument even worth it?
Look, I think I'm right pretty much all the time. I hate to lose arguments, and I relish the last word like Gollum relishes that ring. But I've also learned that, in the grand scheme of things, this type of view isn’t always productive. Sometimes the argument we’re having is trivial, like whether the desks should be arranged rectangularly or U-shaped, and I’m certain U-shaped is better. (Sometimes, we spend an inane amount of time squabbling over the design of bicycle sheds when we should be focusing on nuclear reactors.) So what if I’m right and a U-shaped desk formation is actually a slightly better configuration for collaboration? There are 6,432 more important factors when it comes to workplace productivity, and it’s honestly worse for us to spend another forty-five minutes arguing about desk configurations than it is to flip a coin, pick a direction, and use the remaining forty-four minutes to focus on other more meaningful problems.
Most families have conflicts, therefore it’s helpful to learn about dealing with family conflict if we really want things to work, and then so take steps to resolve family conflict for a happy family and a better life.
Common family issues are something that are inevitable, and so are disagreements a normal part of any relationship. These happen when people have different beliefs, needs, or ways of working – that clash. But if remedial steps are not undertaken, such conflicts begin to harm relationships at home.
While relationships in our family give us joy and support, these relationships can also bring us stress, especially when we don’t know how to cope with family stress.
I have often noticed common family issues trouble few of my relatives and friends, and such conflicts have always caused bitterness in their relationships, if they did not make efforts to resolve them – of course if it was possible.
I however, consider myself lucky to have a beautiful family free from any kinds of conflicts, where my loving father who’s always been my pride and mother who meant the world to me – always tried to become better parents by teaching us family values that hold so strong.
Whenever there were petty differences in our family, or arguments and fights with my sister, we made sure they were resolved in no time and we were back together once again.
“My long experience has taught me to resolve conflict by raising the issues before I or others burn their boats.” ~ Alistair Grant
What is a Family Conflict?
The definition goes as follows :
It is any conflict that occurs among members of a family – such as, parent and children, husband and wife, among siblings, or the extended family like aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.
In short, family conflict is a strong disagreement or disharmony between members of a family.
Every family is made up of many unique individuals with their own personalities, each with a range of opinions and thoughts about every subject and situation. In such cases family conflicts are bound to occur, and it’s also the natural and healthy progression of any relationship.
According to many psychologists, a certain amount of family conflict is healthy, rather than no conflict at all, which indicates a problem in itself.
However, when the fighting intensifies or such common family issues start impacting your happiness and causing stress in the family, effecting your daily functioning or the personality of one or more family members, and when nothing seems to be able to resolve the family problems, then outside intervention or counseling becomes necessary.
Common Causes of Family Conflict
In order to understand the steps to resolve family conflict, you need to understand the stages a family goes through that can cause conflict. Some of the stages include:
- Adjusting and learning to live as a new couple.
- Birth of a baby.
- Birth of other kids.
- A child beginning school.
- A child growing to become a young person.
- A young person becoming an adult.
Each of these stages may create new and different stresses and conflicts. And changes in the situations can also take a toll on the family, which contributes to and causes family conflicts. This may include events like:
- Separation or divorce.
- Clash of egos.
- Friction among family members.
- No happiness in the family.
- Lack of communication among family members.
- Disagreements on bringing up children.
- Lack of family time and togetherness.
- A child or teenager asserting his or her independence.
- Children showing disrespect towards family members.
- Frequent disagreements among siblings.
- Dispute on whom or how to handle chores.
- Difference of opinion over career direction, land disputes, or transfer of property.
- Difference in age, gender, and culture between family members.
- Moving to a new location, like a new house or country.
- Travelling long distance to work, or commuting interstate for work.
- Change in financial conditions, division of income, or disagreements over money.
- Needs or requirements of one or both partners that don’t get met.
- Meddling or nosy relatives. They may visit or stay too long, call and talk too often on the phone, and try to tell you how to live your life.
There could be innumerable other common family issues and situations, though the one important thing to be kept in mind while dealing with such conflicts in general is that all problems should be approached with love and understanding, which greatly helps to resolve them all.
Remember that conflicts and behavioral issues occur due to hidden emotions or/and insecurities that family members may have, which need to be tackled before the problem can be diffused.
Need to Resolve Family Conflict
Family conflicts affect each one of us differently as our families are different, and so is the personality of each family member.
Generally, conflicts in your life affect you emotionally as well as physically, where unresolved issues overtake your life and affect everyone around you.
For some families conflict may start with a specific event like a death or divorce, while for others it may be caused by many little things that keep piling up and are not resolved.
Sometimes conflicts in a family may result in the ending of a relationship because one or both partners become too irritated with their failure to be heard, and to settle their differences once and for all.
If partners don’t know how to resolve problems between them, such conflicts can last in a relationship for decades, sitting quietly below the surface waiting to explode. Eventually, these conflicts erode away the well-being and trust that people have for one another.
“You will only be remembered for two things: the problems you solve or the ones you create.” ~ Dr. Mike Murdock
If we don’t know how to resolve family conflict, it can adversely affect our health and cause us stress by impacting our sleep and appetite.
You may experience anger, irritation, annoyance, anxiety, nervousness, sadness, depression, feeling of powerlessness, and a fear about dealing with uncertainty or the future. There may also be physical complaints like headaches or digestive problems.
If your kids are skipping school or scoring poor grades, abusing alcohol or using drugs, and not behaving normally, these are a sure sign that something is wrong.
Negotiate to Resolve Family Conflict
When you are dealing with family conflict, you need to be willing to negotiate and try to patch up with each another. This however isn’t the case always, as normally your first angry impulse is to prove your point and win the argument anyhow.
“The greatest conflicts are not between two people but between one person and himself.” ~ Garth Brooks
If both parties and different family members have solid egos and stubbornly stick to their viewpoints, it is tough to resolve family conflict. But it helps if everyone as a family decides to listen to one other and negotiate instead.
A few suggestions to negotiate include:
- Try to separate the problem from the person, and learn to identify and accept the problem.
- If you are angry, try to cool off first to talk in a clear, calm, honest, and reasonable manner.
- Remind yourself that you want to resolve family conflict, not try to win the argument.
- Chalk out if the issue is worth fighting over, and then be willing to compromise.
- Learn to pay attention and listen by respecting and acknowledging the other person’s view point. Don’t interrupt while the other person is speaking.
- Keep in mind that the other person may not always agree to all that you say.
- Stick to the solution that’s decided on, and make sure it’s clear to everyone.
Dealing with family conflict in a constructive and positive manner tackles the issue at hand and eases communication, which makes it simpler to deal with any such events that may happen in the future.
“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one reason that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” ~ William James
Steps to Dealing with Family Conflict
Although there is no magic wand or perfect formula to sort out all the mentioned problems, a few steps and guidelines are suggested to help tackle such events.
- Assess if the conflict is worth addressing
If you want to resolve common family issues, you need to first decide if the conflict in hand is worth addressing or not. You must deal with recurring or major issues to reduce the negative impact of conflict and argument.
If you feel the family conflict is over a trivial issue or some minor difference, then the best way to resolve it may be is to just leave it alone, and let everyone calm down after sometime.
- Include all family members
While dealing with family conflict, it is essential for all members to be involved in trying to find ways to resolve your conflict by working together.
Family members can help out by gathering information from libraries, bookstores, Internet, or by reading articles on various common family issues – especially on topics like raising kids, marriage, or dealing with and understanding teenagers.
Sometimes there are frequent or repeated issues that are the cause of family conflict, for which you have to make a plan to resolve it together by working on one issue at a time.
“We belong to each other.” ~ Mother Teresa
You should not forget to include all family members who will be affected by it; as such issues can be reviewed often and used as a model while trying to resolve family conflict that may occur in the future.
- Improve yourself to react positively
You need to get hold of yourself by improving your ability to react positively to circumstances, and remember to be realistic in your expectations.
Take deep breaths or walk away to calm yourself, which also gives you time to think and retrospect before reacting.
- Make sure all communication channels are open
Learn the art of communicating effectively like allowing each person to voice his or her thoughts without interrupting, and chalk out how you would talk about conflicting issues.
While working towards resolving the common family issues, watch your words and language, and use a soft, gentle, and friendlier tone that reduces the hostility of what you want to convey. Learn to improve the relationship with kindness.
“Any problem, big or small, within a family, always seems to start with bad communication. Someone isn’t listening.” ~ Emma Thompson
Don’t use you-statements, instead use I-statements, as they sound less accusing and you are able to take the responsibility for the statement on yourself.
Also, avoid calling names as they are inflammatory and only add more fuel to the fire by making the other person angry, thereby intensifying the conflict.
Communicate with your children without turning conflicts into lectures and punishments, and never forget that poor communication leads to relationship problems.
Ask them their feelings, as being parents you may be surprised to discover how unloved or/and unfairly treated your kids may feel.
Without coming to the rescue of your kids, encourage them to find solutions to their conflicts without taking any sides.
Avoid choosing a side to agree with when dealing with family conflict, as this leads to more fighting and conflicts. Instead, listen calmly, be understanding, be indifferent, and let the involved people work out the problem on their own.
If you do have a solution to resolve family conflict that your family members are facing, then offer it by remaining neutral. Remember, if you don’t remain neutral and choose sides, you become a part of the family conflict too.
- Resolve through mediation and counseling
Mediation helps a great deal while dealing with family conflict, though you can even resolve issues without bringing in a neutral third party.
Such resolutions can be done by mediation from a person who is a qualified professional like a family or marriage therapist, provided the other member is ready to discuss the issue and wants to find a resolution.
When nothing seems to work and issues start affecting your mental and physical health, counseling may be the answer to help you with methods or ways to deal with family conflict.
- Learn to forgive, forget, and let go
If you are not able to find answers to resolve the common family issues and they are having a negative affect on your health, then it’s better to try to forgive and forget the other person, and move on in life.
Forgiving means that you let go your feelings of anger and resentment towards the person involved, and this will benefit you in the long run.
To let go may refer to either letting go of the relationship that you can no longer carry on with, or it may refer to letting go of the need for you to be heard and understood.
However, as a last-choice resort, if you think that things are beyond repairs and if the person was abusive and there is no reason to expect anything from him/her in the future, it’s best to cut off total contact altogether by breaking up and moving on in life.
“Instead of suppressing conflicts, specific channels could be created to make this conflict explicit, and specific methods could be set up by which the conflict is resolved.” ~ Albert Low.
If there are any family conflicts that I have within my family, which happens rarely where my kids or husband are concerned, I prefer choosing to resolve them by forgiving, forgetting, and letting go.
I feel life is too short to cry over petty issues, when instead we should all be living it to the fullest by being loving and understanding towards each another.
Do you also wonder how to resolve family conflict? What measures would you suggest while dealing with family conflict? Share your experiences about what you did or steps you took to resolve common family issues in the comments below.
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About the author
Harleena SinghHarleena Singh is a positive thinker and a freelance writer. She loves to write inspiring and thought provoking posts on self-improvement, family, relationships, health, and other aspects of life. She's also a blogger, who loves to share her blogging knowledge and experiences.
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