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Tips For Working Through Conflict

Updated: Oct 27, 2019

Follow a structure that you have both agreed to.

When working through conflict, especially difficult conflict, a structured process that you’ve both agreed to use can be very helpful. Read my blog Working Successfully Through Difficult Dialogues for one example of a structured process for conflict.

For me, the tips below have added a lot when using a structured process for conflict and also when I'm not using a structured process.

1. Share an appreciation or something connecting before stating what isn’t working for you.

“Thank you very much for buying me dinner and spending this time with me. Would you be willing to turn your cell phone off while we eat?”

“I understand that you are very busy at work and have a lot on your mind. And, I would love it if you would text me when you’re going to be late.”

2. Ask for want you want instead of focusing on what isn’t working.

Sometimes it helps to explain what isn’t working, but often you can simply ask for what you want.

Focusing on what isn’t working: “The dogs came in wet and muddy and climbed onto the couch.”

Asking for what you want: “Would you be willing to wipe the dogs down before letting them in the house?”

Adding an appreciation: “Thank you for walking the dogs. Would you be willing to wipe the dogs down before letting them in the house?”

3. Stick to observations/facts (Leave out the adjectives and adverbs and you’re left with observations/facts).

Don’t use judgments, evaluations, comparisons, and blame.

Evaluation: “You’re not a team player.”

Observations: “I don’t see email responses from you.” “I don’t hear words of encouragement or appreciation from you.” “I don’t hear you volunteering for tasks.”

Asking for what you want: “Would you be willing to reply to my emails by the next day?” Would you let me know when you appreciate something from the team?” Etc.

Adding a connecting phrase: “I’m guessing you have a lot on your plate these days.” And, it would really help me and the team if you would answer emails within 24 hours, etc.”

4. Admit to it too.

“It would really help me and the team if you would answer emails within a day. I realize I don’t always get back to emails in 24 hours, so I’m going to work on this too.” Avoid comparing how much less you do the behaviour than the person you’re speaking to, such as “I respond more than you do, but I’ll work on it too.” Just acknowledge that you’re going to work on it too. For more on this see my post Admit to it Too.

5. Talk about your needs and how the behaviour change will contribute to you.

“Putting your cell phone away meet my needs for connection, presence and knowing I matter. I love feeling like you’re with me. I treasure being with you without distractions and interruptions. With the busyness of life these days, we have so little of that kind of connection.”

6. Acknowledge something about the other’s experience before responding.

“I can see how you would see things that way.”

“I can imagine that would be difficult for you.”

“I understand how you have needs for reliability, support, and trust.”

7. Can I see if I understand you?

Start adding this question to your dialogues and discussions, “Can I see if I understand you?” This is my favourite tool for transforming potential arguments. Most times, people say yes to this question. Who doesn’t want to be understood? However, in some situations it can help to state your intention first, “It might help us work through this if I make sure I’m understanding you. Do you mind if I tell you what I heard so far?” 

If the answer is yes, then say back the important things you’ve heard and make some needs guesses. Finish with, “Is that it? Am I missing anything? Is there more?”

Saying back to someone what you’ve heard her say and making guesses about her feelings and needs does some important things:

  • It demonstrates that you are paying attention and care about what she has to say;

  • It helps her organize her thoughts and make sure she is clear and understood;

gives her space to process her feelings and needs and calm her nervous system, which often leads to deeper insights or connection and allows her to better hear you.

Once the other person is satisfied you’ve understood them, then share your observations, feelings, needs, and requests, and ask her if she would be willing to tell you what she’s heard you say.

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