One of our most valuable tools in relating to other people is the ability to argue effectively. And even before red-hot issues reach the level of an argument, there are steps we can take for handling conflict, including three necessary elements for reaching resolution.
The first is for everyone involved to acknowledge that a problem exists and that it’s affecting everyone, so it’s not just “someone else’s fault.” The second is a willingness to do whatever it takes to resolve the problem. The third is a willingness to respect each other’s responsibilities, which means saying, “I want to take care of my life-stuff without interference. And I won’t tell you how to fulfill your role.”
To get to this point, we need to drop criticism and blame. And instead, spend our energy figuring out what we can do to resolve the conflict. If we focus on each other’s strengths, we can join forces to find a win-win answer, by asking solution-oriented questions: “What can I do to help? What do you expect from me? What can I expect from you? What’s the best solution that will serve both of us?” Then we just need to agree on what action to take – and keep the agreements.
WHEN CONFLICT BLOWS UP
In an ideal world, disagreements are resolved before they escalate into arguments. But since most of us don’t live there, it will help to know these seven steps for fighting fair.
STEP 1. HANG ONTO A CONSTRUCTIVE PERSPECTIVE
By the time we’re in a full-blown argument, we usually believe that we’re right and the other person is wrong, and we may feel desperate to prove it. The way out of that is to remember that everyone is right from his or her viewpoint, which means no one’s wrong.
STEP 2. DO IT FOR THE KIDS
Children are the biggest losers in households where the adults don’t argue effectively. We tend to convince ourselves that our actions are justified, but believing that we’re entitled to bash other people always results in casualties. Focusing on finding solutions, rather than hashing out problems, allows goodwill to become the norm.
STEP 3. NAME THE REAL ISSUE
We can identify what we’re really arguing about by asking ourselves: “Why am I choosing to be upset?” It won’t work to say, “I’m angry because you did this!” That’s just a way to manipulate the other person into doing what we want. We need to examine what we believe about the situation and the person, because our belief is the source of our reaction, not the conditions.
STEP 4. MAKE IT SAFE FOR EVERYONE
Guaranteeing safety means agreeing right up front that anything can be said without getting whacked for it, now or later. Criticizing, blaming and shaming must be off-limits. It means arguing without making the other person wrong, and without making him or her responsible for what’s happening inside us.
STEP 5. TAKE TURNS TALKING AND LISTENING
It won’t work to think: “How can I get this person to change for me?” But it will work to think: “How can I change?” Because as we change in relation to a situation, everyone else involved changes along with us. We need to ask ourselves: “What am I willing to give, and what would I like to receive in exchange?” And then share that with the other person in factual, neutral statements.
STEP 6. DROP RESISTANCE
If we associate inner strength with force, we’ll push hard against what we don’t like, which will produce more problems. In the end, our efforts will work against us and we’ll miss out on finding our real power. How do we drop resistance? By letting people be as they are, without wanting them to change for us.
STEP 7. FIND COMMON GROUND
Arguing effectively includes finding something that we can agree on about the issue. It’s not about being right or winning. It’s about discovering common ground that can resolve the differences.
When everyone feels safe, connected and heard, finding common ground can be easier than it sounds. The key point is that understanding each other’s feelings and perspectives matters more than whatever we’re arguing about. And by making that a priority, we can’t lose.
Photo by Kees Ouboter