There’s a bizarre thing about parenting. We’re doing the best we can, while at the same time we have an inkling that our kids may need therapy later. We try to get it all right, but it’s not likely that our kids will get through it without dragging some unresolved issues along into adulthood – just like we did.
So what’s the answer? A solid understanding that perfect compatibility only happens in fairytales and that conflict is normal in relationships. Plus the tools for arguing effectively – which means resolution without casualties.
There are specific steps for handling conflict.
Whenever conflict comes up – and it will, because it’s a way to resolve old stuff – several elements are necessary to reach resolution. Without them, there’s really not a clear way forward. But with them, we’re on our way to a solution!
The first is an acknowledgement by each person involved 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 – big, but essential. And the third is a willingness to respect each other’s responsibilities. That means saying, “I want to take care of my life-stuff without interference. And I won’t tell you how to fulfill your roles.”
To get to this point, we need to drop all 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.
What to do when conflict blows up.
In an ideal world, disagreements are resolved before they escalate into arguments. But since most of us don’t live in that world, it will help to know these seven steps for arguing in a constructive way – and to teach them to our children!
1. Grab a helpful perspective and hang on to it.
By the time we’re in a full-blown argument, we usually believe that we’re right and the other person is wrong. We may even feel desperate to prove it, because we believe that being right makes us all right. The way out of that is to remember that everyone is all right, no exception – and that everyone is right from his or her viewpoint, which means no one’s wrong.
2. Do it for the kids.
We convince ourselves that our actions are justified. But believing that we’re entitled to bash other people results in casualties. And children are the biggest losers in a household where ineffective arguing is taking place. A focus on finding solutions, rather than hashing out problems, causes goodwill to become the norm.
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 person or the situation, because our belief is the source of our reaction, not the conditions.
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 need to be off-limits. It means arguing without making the other person wrong. Think about it. It’s refreshing, and it’s transformative!
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, neutralist statements.
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 who they are without wanting them to change for us.
7. Find common ground.
Arguing effectively requires finding something that we can agree on about the issue. It’s not about being right or winning. If our goal is to win, we’ve already lost.
When we feel safe and connected, finding common ground is easier than it sounds. The bottom line is that understanding the other person’s perspective and feelings matters more than what we’re arguing about. And by making that a priority, we can’t lose.
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