When we experience a “prickly situation” – disagreement, frustration, or miscommunication – with a loved one, coworker, or friend, it can be tempting to avoid resolving it. The more we think about the solution, the more intimidating resolution begins to feel. The situation takes on the weight of our emotions, making it seem like a much bigger deal than it actually is. But if we don’t resolve it, we are destined to repeat similar issues in the future.
You may have heard the phrase, “Never make an emotional response to a business decision.” This is also a good approach to take when dealing with interpersonal conflicts. If we can separate our emotional reaction from the facts of a situation, we will be more effective in addressing the issue and finding resolution.
Before approaching the person you are experiencing conflict with, make sure you thoroughly understand your own feelings around the situation so that you will be able to communicate them clearly. Ask yourself the following questions, and contemplate the answers. You may want to spend some time writing down the answers to help clarify your thoughts. When you’re ready, begin a conversation and make sure to touch upon all of these points.
What is bothering me about this situation? Make sure you understand what the specific situation is that you are reacting to so that you can explain it clearly, including the other person’s thoughts or actions.
Why is it bothering me? Did the situation make you feel dismissed or slighted? Are there underlying factors from your personal history that has caused you to feel more emotional around this situation? Did this particular instance make you realize that there has been a pattern of uncomfortable actions?
How will ignoring this conflict impact the dynamic of this relationship? This is an important question to ask yourself because it will help you to better understand why initiating a conversation is important. Say, for example, your spouse or partner says something to you that triggers a negative event in your past and you recoil in response. By ignoring this conflict, you are putting up emotional boundaries between you and your partner, without giving them the benefit of knowing why. Over time, these emotional walls can erode your relationship. Explaining why you became upset, helps your loved one understand why you reacted in that way and gives them a chance to correct their behavior in the future.
What would I like to see as fair resolution? Oftentimes the answer to this question is fairly simple. It may be: “I want you to pay attention to me rather than my cellphone when we are talking.” Or, “I want you to watch the children once a week so I can go bowling.”
What do we each need to do to achieve fair resolution? This question will be resolved during the conversation, but it’s important to think about your own role and ability to compromise before speaking. For example, if you’re upset that your partner didn’t attend a party with you, you might offer: “I will make a better effort to keep you in the loop before I commit to plans for both of us, and I’ll remind you about the event when the date is closer.
Remember: The most important step towards resolving conflicts is to be brave enough to start conversations that matter. If we don’t, we are destined to repeat these inadvertent missteps again and again. As the Dalai Lama said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.”
– By Penny Vittoria, Successful Aging Coach