One of the most common problems I see in my practice is lack of skills in solving conflict. For some, it is very difficult to communicate clearly about what we would like, want or prefer.
Following are five steps for managing a conflict in a healthy way. It might be helpful to have this list printed out for both parties to refer to. Pay special attention to the last step.
Step 1 Clarify the Conflict Describe the situation as you see it. Be careful to use statements such as “I feel sad when ‘X’ behavior happens”, rather than finger-pointing “you” statements. Also, be very specific. Only address one conflict at a time. It’s very easy to get distracted by other problems, so be mindful to stay on task. No name calling, no fault-finding, no blame or shame. Both parties to need occasionally re-state what the other person said to check out what they thought they heard. I often ask people to “be the lawyer for the other side” to develop understanding and empathy for the other’s perspective. If things get tense, take a break. If you’re feeling defensive say that as soon as you feel it rising, rather than trying to stuff it. Also, both people need to be awake--rarely do these conversations go well when people are tired or cranky.
Step 2 Brainstorm Solutions At this point it’s not about judging solution options as good/bad/realistic etc. We’re only generating a list. If this is a family conflict, you can have a bit of fun with this step in order to keep things light.
Step 3 Evaluate Solutions It is in this step you look for fixes that leave everyone a winner. We have to be willing to give to get. Evaluate what are good and bad things about each solution option. What would keep the solution from being effective? It’s important to be honest about what you like or not, or what works for you or doesn’t. Tell the truth and stick to your values or principles. For example, if one solution was for you to work less hours but do a Sunday shift and that went against your religious practice, you would need to tell that to the other person. Explain it without saying you’re sorry for your beliefs, and provide another work schedule that might be beneficial to both parties.
Step 4 Try It Out Choose a resolution and try it out for a week or two. Just because things aren’t running smoothly in the first few days doesn’t necessarily mean your solution is worthless or misguided. Sometimes it’s hard at first to do a new pattern. Stick with it. Imagine that you’re a researcher-just noticing what is working, what isn’t without judging yourself or the other person. Simply be aware.
Step 5 Evaluation Have another meeting to assess whether your conflict has been solved. This last step often gets neglected when the chosen solution didn’t work. People get frustrated, feel like the situation is hopeless and just give up. Instead, revisit it and go back to steps 4 and 5. Don’t give up.
(These steps are modified from an excellent anger resource, Taming Your Temper: A Workbook for Individuals, Couples, and Groups by Nathaniel David Smith, MA, NCC, LPC)