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The One Thing that Separates Loved Ones From Strangers

 

A few years ago I frequently took the GO train to downtown Toronto for work. It was mostly a pleasant ride. However, this one lady would push everyone in her frenzy to disembark every time the train pulled into Union Station. Mostly I stayed out of it but one day, she pushed me. I decided to call her out on it. Right there, on the platform, she started screaming out threats about pushing me down the stairs. A security guard caught my eye and came over. We explained the situation to him with several other passengers confirming that this lady had been very aggressive for the past few weeks. The security guard let her go with a warning. That lady was a total stranger. My only concern in this situation was to speak out against her aggression and do what I thought was “right” in defending myself. I did not care at all about whether our relationship would suffer as a result of my speaking out.

In contrast, when I moved to a new country, I saw a lot of things that were not “right”. Living with five other people, conflict was both healthy and inevitable. The difference was that I actually cared about my relationship with these people. So I had to force myself to look past huge hurdles like emotional extremes, power imbalances and a starkly different worldview and find a way to get along with them. I learned an important lesson – from siblings to parents to spouses to kids, our closest relationships are the trickiest to handle.

Strangers VS Loved Ones

When it comes to our closest relationships, unresolved conflicts can lead to an ongoing skirmishes and resentment. When this everyday stress becomes pervasive, it not only damages your relationship and self-esteem but also robs you of a potentially powerful support system (your loved ones). Conflict with people you care about is very different form conflict with people who are transient in your life like the cashier at your local drugstore or the rude lady pushing you on your commute to work.

Conflict with loved ones is trickier to handle because we usually DO care about our relationship enough to want to make it last. It is also likely that your affection for your loved one(s) compels you to keep their best interests in mind. So mutual trust and affection are essential to establishing and maintaining healthy long term relationships. However, in times of conflict, mutual understanding is the first facet of your relationship to be dismissed.

Impact of Different Conflict Management Styles

In a conflict situation with a loved one, your relationship will take the brunt of the damage especially if one of both of you are constantly minimizing the other person’s feelings. We have all fallen into patterns of aggression, lack of sensitivity or lack of courtesy in a domestic argument at one point or another. Unconsciously or even on purpose, we all tend to do it. However, not many of us are aware that these toxic patterns of interaction set up a dangerous power play dynamic – the effects of which can linger for a long time after the conflict has been resolved.

While displays of insensitivity, aggression and power struggles are damaging to your relationships with loved ones, avoidance of conflict is also equally, if not more damaging to your relationship. Always striving to smooth things over and please the other person inevitably breeds resentment if you are always bending over backwards for your loved one. Ironically, the family member you are trying to accommodate is simultaneously being conditioned to be selfish and insensitive to your preferences because you are always putting their needs ahead of yours. When this happens, the trust in your relationship is damaged as well as your own personal sense of self-worth. Rather than engaging in patterns of aggression or accommodation, an honest, respectful (both to yourself and to the other person) and non-manipulative approach can strengthen your relationship even in times of conflict.

However, in order to reach a respectful, honest and non-manipulative relationship dynamic, both parties need to do certain internal work first. Experts of often talk about open communication, negotiation and compromise but in order to act on these peace-keeping values, you need to create the emotional and mental space for them first. Here are some Do’s and Don’ts of overcoming conflict with your loved ones:

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What You Need To Do When Fighting With A Friend

Has anyone else noticed how friendships are becoming more and more transient in our hyper-connected lives?

Instead of a big fight, argument or heated discussion, friendships now fizzle out because of tiny little falling outs – your friend didn’t call or you forgot to wish them on their birthday or you simply stopped calling, writing or meeting. Most of the time, the issue just festers, unaddressed. IF you want to be more proactive in your social relationships, try the following suggestions whenever you are in an awkward situation with a friend:

Avoid Gossip

I used to be a straight shooter until I was plunged into the middle of a million strange people and forced to interact with them. I noticed how some people would gossip incessantly. Repelled at first, I eventually began to see how they would get short-term positive results, as the two gossiping people became “friends”. So I started doing it too. Much to my surprise, the initial ‘bonding’ your experience when you gossip with someone quickly turns into an acute sense of mistrust. If a person can spread negativity about someone else, who knows what they will be sewing behind your back about you?

It took me a while to figure out that gossip actually harms you the most – not the person you are gossiping about who is likely oblivious to your back-biting. So when you fight with friend, avoid gossiping or talking about them to another person in a complaining way. Just don’t go down that slippery slope.

See Others’ perspective

In any fight, the challenge is to try to understand it from the other person’s perspective. What if they’re wrong, you say?  Even if they are wrong, understanding their perspective will help you understand how to approach the issue with them. This is especially true when you have a fight and someone is sending negative energy to you. When someone sends you negative every, instead of sending them negative energy back, try sending them positive energy instead. Thwart the vicious cycle of mistrust.

One way you can send them positive energy is to try to understand their situation and empathize with them. This doesn’t mean you give up your views and parrot theirs. Instead, show them compassion and they will be that much more willing to return that sense of understanding.

Initiate resolution

Ever get into a power struggle with a friend? You’re arguing, you’re sure they’re wrong and you’re waiting for that apology so you can forgive them? And wanting. And waiting. They never reach out to you because they feel equally strongly that you were wrong and they were right.

Be that powerful person who initiates resolution. Even if it intimidates you a little bit. Be that powerful person who says “I know we don’t agree on some things and may even be angry at each other, but lets make this work!”

Give them space

If your friend is too angry to talk, don’t hound them.  Give them space to calm down. Reach out and let them know once that you’re willing to talk it out. If they genuinely care about the friendship, they will eventually reach out to you when they are ready.

Listen Actively

When they do reach out to you, don’t start tooting your own grievances right away. Listen patiently. When I first got married, my husband’s infinite patience with errant employees, friends and even relatives drove me crazy. The other person would be spewing heated nonsense in his face that was none of his fault, and all he would do is nod, ask questions and entertain that load of nonsense like it was the most important thing ever.  I thought he was being timid and unassuming, but in retrospect, I noticed something wonderful. Although he was not aggressive in that heated moment, people always apologized sheepishly afterwards. And boy, did they respect him. His ability to stay calm in the moment and listen to people thoroughly so they felt heard made him more powerful than any aggressive, fist-waving, red-faced human being.

Never Accuse

Its natural in any conflict to get fixated on all the things the other person is doing wrong. But pointing fingers and accusing someone does nothing other than further alienate you. No, spewing those caustic words hovering in your head will not “set them straight”. Accusing someone, even if its their fault will only make the conflict fester and close off communication.

 

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How To Get What You Want In Any Conflict

Conflicts are temporary. Children know intrinsically that conflicts are inevitable and transient in our lives. We adults often forget.

The other day I watched my daughter fight with another child on the playground over a couple of sand toys. The battle for the sand bucket and spade was fierce and brutal – punches flew, screams emerged until we broke them apart.

The adults around were all nervous for a long time after, watching for a fight that needed any intervention, meanwhile the kids had long forgotten about it. Once we broke them apart, they promptly proceeded to hold hands, climb up the big blue slide backwards and then tumbling back down down, giggling, as we adults watched nervously.

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Many of us have learned to hold on to conflicts, grudges, hurts and disagreements long after the inciting incident has dissipated. A lot of this emotional baggage clogs up our consciousness and hampers our ability to think, learn, function and live.

It also hampers our ability to let go of the negativity that often surrounds conflicts. Most importantly, it costs us the opportunity to take advantage of the learning that ensues whenever we are caught up in the middle of a conflict.

Adversity has the effect of eliciting

Opportunity for change

Conflicts aren’t just opportunities for learning, they are also opportunities to bring about change. Often, we put up with things that we don’t necessarily agree with or enjoy.

When a conflict arises, that’s probably the first thing that comes to our mind. We recount the reasons why the person is wrong or why the situation makes us unhappy. But rather than merely complaining, what if we use that interaction as a medium of communication in order to change that thing we don’t like, or to improve something we think could be done better?

In order to use conflicts as an opportunity for change, however, we need to think about how we will position ourselves.

The art of success is mainly centred on

3 Proven Steps to Positioning Yourself Right

 

Think. Anticipate. Execute.

An unnamed entity in my family is really good at positioning themselves whenever they anticipate that a conflict will arise out of a particular situation. While the rest of us go into any conflict situation unarmed, often unaware, this person is able to anticipate the events with such acquity that it almost looked like magic to me. Until I tried it.

The first few times this happened, I was awkward and unsure, but the more I did it, I realized how this was a learned skill like any other. So how exactly does it work?

Think:

Assess the situation and brainstorm the outcomes that could happen.

The first few times, you might have to sit down and list all the possibilities with actual pen and paper. As you get better with it however, you will be able to do it promptly in your head.

The purpose of this step is to train your brain to hone in on the possibilities of the situation as they relate to the outcome that you want.

Anticipate:

Anticipation is not just anticipating the other’s actions, but also finding a common thread that ties your own goal into the situation.

Going back to my family member, they  often word their proposals in a very careful, planned way so as to sound like the course of action they want is in our mutual interest even though it may be benefiting them the most. While some may consider this manipulative, the fact remains, that not many of us want to hear the cold, hard, conflict-ridden and harsh truth. Most of us would rather get along and avoid conflict.

Afterall, what is more important-  to get along and resolve the issue in an amicable way (that also happens to benefits you), or to feel a sense of empowerment because you were “right” and you showed the other person a ‘truth’ or two about life.

Remember, truth and correctness are subjective. In any human interaction, your truth will always be slightly different from mine. Your sense of right and wrong will be different too. Your truth is just as true to you as mine is to me.

So instead of being hard headed about what you perceive to be “true” why not focus on a solution that is both amicable and beneficial?

Execute:

Once you’ve done the mental work of preparing for an imminent conflict, it is time to execute.

In order to overcome conflict, your delivery must be authentic, if nothing else. Often, this above mentioned family member will try so hard to convince me that helping them or doing something is in my own interest, that it turns me off from the whole sordid affair and I end up saying no just for the principle of it.

No one likes to be manipulated. If people see through your ruse to get them to do something you don’t want to do, its game over. You’ve lost their precious trust because everything you say, for the rest of the interaction, they will view through a lens of suspicion.

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You want to position yourself in the best way possible so when conflict arises, you’re armed and ready to get the outcome that you desire.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this series.