The Art of Transforming Conflict into Connection
Conflict is natural and unavoidable. Misunderstandings and disagreements occur in every relational aspect of our lives. Our defense network is automatically triggered when there's a difference of opinion about an important issue. When a topic is especially personal, defenses become intense and often unrelenting. These defenses hijack our wisdom and better judgement leading us to blame and accuse or strongly defend our stance.
As the game of verbal ping pong continues we become increasingly upset and rigid. The negative feedback loop takes over, and no one is benefiting and nothing is getting resolved. We walk away from these experiences feeling overwhelmed and victimized or we may grapple with feelings of guilt and shame for what was said or done.
Once the storm has settled down, it's important to take a step back and lick your wounds. Step away, calm your body (take deep breaths, do something relaxing), and find quiet time to reflect. While we can't undo the spoken words or actions, we can take a look at our role in the interaction.
Ask yourself the following:
About the connection with the other:
Did I raise my voice? How was my tone?
Did I blame and accuse? Did I invalidate thoughts and feelings?
How well did I listen? Was I doing all of the talking?
Was I being a team player? Was I primarily focused on myself and making my case?
Did I show compassion or was I cold?
About the connection with self:
What was most upsetting about the interaction?
Are there roots of this in my childhood or some earlier time of difficulty or trauma?
What can I learn from this?
About moving forward:
What goal do I really want to achieve with this person? How do I want to reconnect?
Am I able to reconnect now with compassion, curiosity, and an openness to explore how to move forward?
It's helpful to respond to the questions above in writing. When we write, we are better able to process our thoughts and feelings. Seeing both represented on paper creates space and improved objectivity.
After this period of reflection and a resounding 'yes' to the final question above, invite the other to a follow-up discussion to explore how to move forward. If the invitation is not accepted, allow the other to have more time to calm. Respond with compassion and patience. Each person has a unique timeline for emotional recovery. Compassionate acceptance sets the tone for the type of talk you intend to have.
Once the invitation has been accepted, be aware that defenses may become engaged again. Acknowledge this as it occurs and decide with the other to either reconnect later or compassionately work through what is happening.
To work toward a resolution, lead with the following:
Demonstrate compassion. Recognizing that the other has also struggled demonstrates that we understand and care. We are no longer on an island and are reaching out for connection. Compassionate words indicate that you aren't the victim and don't see the other as the bad guy.
Highlight common ground. Sharing a common goal, quality, or experience says, “We have this in common. We're in this together.” We can better relate when we see that others are like us even in some small way.
Maintain a collaborative mindset. Asking questions, encouraging feedback, demonstrating flexibility is indicative of teamwork and represents a desire to reach a healthy compromise and resolution.
Conflict is a part of life, and there's no need to fear it. Sometimes we handle conflict situations brilliantly and other times we falter. When the latter occurs, we simply take a break until emotions settle and defenses are set aside. We can then begin to better understand the other and ourselves, so we can reach a common goal thus transforming a conflict situation into a growth experience.