Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: How to handle conflict
Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
CONFLICT! Unless you are a master debater, or you relish a good verbal sparring, or you have a few masochistic tendencies, you probably wouldn’t volunteer or sign up for a heated argument that could zap your energy.
Conflict has been known to leave people emotionally depleted, possibly with a bruised and battered ego. Nevertheless … conflict is a fact of life! Let’s take a tour:
Conflict is Expected! Why? Because in any system, it is assumed that all members have different personalities, habits, family-of-origin beliefs, perspectives and interpretations of events. Therefore, those differences are bound to clash at any given moment … sometimes with a squabble, sometimes with the silent treatment, sometimes with an explosion of emotion. But … it IS expected!
Conflict can be Healthy! How? When differences are discussed respectfully (even with passion), honesty and transparency prevail.
Conflict can be Non-threatening! When? Always! When there are healthy boundaries and expectations during conflict, when respect reigns, when solution is the goal, everyone leaves the encounter feeling esteemed, heard and satisfied.
Yes, Conflict can be Productive! When there is a “Safety Zone” where it is safe to voice feelings, opinions, thoughts — even if they’re different from others’ — resolution is possible and all are able to share without repercussion!
Conflict is a fact of life! If that’s the case, here are some rules to help us to fight fair:
- Don’t Hit Below the Belt. That includes: no sarcasm, no hurtful references off the issue and no shaming, blaming or attacking.
- Stick to the Subject. Only discuss one issue at a time, and refrain from references to past issues that already have been resolved.
- Don’t Repeat Past History. If it’s more than two days old, forget it! Rather, resolve with some immediacy so that anger does not have a chance to fuel the fire.
- No Name-calling, Cursing. This is character assassination, it is degrading and it will only leave the person very wounded.
- Finish the Fight. No door slamming, no shutting down, no refusal, no escaping. If anger is present, agree to separate for a while, but always designate a time for the resolution discussion.
- Don’t Go To Bed Mad. “Do not let the sun set on your anger.” (Ephesians 4:26) Resolution may not occur before the sun sets, but anger must be managed. You can agree to resolve in the morning, but always agree to go to bed in harmony.
- Never, Ever Resort to Physical Violence. Enough said.
- Remember, Anger Usually Covers a Soft Emotion. Risk vulnerability, dig beneath the anger and own the emotion. Then, it is solvable.
- Don’t be Afraid of Timeouts. If the conflict is circular without any break toward resolution, agree to a timeout. Use this time to cool down, to approach the discussion again with renewed conviction to solve, and always have the follow-up discussion planned for when you end the “timeout.”
- Handle with Care. Remember, conflict occurs and must be resolved … not won. When you keep that forefront in your mind, your passionate discussions still will be kind and honoring to the one you are with. The relationship is far more important than the conflict.
Yes, conflict is a fact of life! So … let’s vow to keep it honoring and healthy. Remember, always attack and beat up the issue … but never the person with the issue!