Welcome! Today Scott Hendrickson brings to us a great article on conflict resolution. Conflicts are part of life, they are inevitable. Sometimes we mistake the goal in dealing with a conflict as being the avoidance of them. The goal should not be to avoid conflicts, just to learn ways to more effectively cope with them. Here is what Scott has to say:

We were all taught in elementary school at the end of every sentence we place a period. We were told to avoid run-on sentences. The period serves either as a pause to distinguish between the next sentence and thought as well as the end of the story. Now I am by no means a grammartician but I believe there is something really useful here to help you reduce the length and intensity of your conflicts. In our confrontations, sometimes what maintains the fight is the lack of a period.

It makes sense that we repeat ourselves in escalating fashion as we fight. We are angry so we have lots of energy to deal with. Probably we don't feel listened to or hurt and need to talk it out. If someone doesn't understand or agree it is the natural thing to keep pounding away with what we believe the truth. When we don't know what else to do we do what we know and what comes instinctively.

There are some problems with giving way to our old fighting habits however. For one, it doesn't seem to be effective. I don't remember too many people coming to see me who were satisfied with the outcome of these arguments. Here are a few points to consider to help bring your fights to a close.

Bad habits that keep us from being heard...
  • Lecturing (run-on sentences) keeps a person on the defensive therefore minimizing insight. The more you yell, lecture or repeat your unresolved complaint, the more your target audience (spouse, child, coworker, IT consultant, etc) tries to defend herself. When a person is defensive, it is almost impossible to see another perspective.
  • Redundancy communicates your stupid or you are not listening and maintains defenses (see first bullet point). It also says I have little intention of hearing your side. If you are looking to simply blow off some angry steam this might work briefly but after your rant your listener might have his ears plugged with little motivation to hear or validate your complaint.
  • Pounding away at your point over and over also says, "you are going to do it my way or see it my way or else!" Sorry but this is controlling. This is a hard point but if you don't allow for the other person's disagreement you will be hard pressed to actually achieve genuine agreement. From a negotiating stand point alone, if one of the parties has no intention of moving from his/her position he/she is not negotiating in good faith. Any healthy relationship has the built-in expectation of differences and accepts this.
Better habits...
  • Use a simple 3 part "I statement" with a period (don't forget the period). Part one: I feel... (insert an actual feeling word here: an emotion). Part two: when you... (insert the other persons behavior succinctly summarized). Part three: because... (insert the consequences or ramifications of the other person's behavior). Again, don't forget the period or pause after your "I statement". Let the person respond. They might be defensive, clueless or turn it back on you or they might listen and attend to your feelings.
  • If they become defensive or they discount your statement, follow up with "I hear what you are saying, nonetheless, that is how I feel". Avoid the urge to be defensive yourself. The point is to communicate how the other person's behavior affects you. Remember that repeating yourself doesn't increase the chances you will be understood or validated BUT does reduce the chances of effective conflict resolution
  • The reason for the "I statement" is to communicate how the other person's behavior affects you. By not belaboring your point or complaint you give this person more freedom to listen and understand you. Yes, he or she can reject you as well but long-term by giving him freedom to choose without the need to be defensive she will be more and more open to your point of view.
A period raises the possibility for introspection therefore learning. A period says I respect your feelings which is what I want in return. A period gives you an exit out of your anger and conflict to understanding and deeper intimacy.

Written by Scott Hendrickson, LCPC