Six Things You Can Do to Manage Conflict Better
There’s no way around it – conflict is hard. Most of us try to avoid, postpone or passive-aggressively fend it off. But it’s usually inevitable, and, for separating families, it often seems to dominate conversations. Worst of all, when managed poorly, it can irreparably damage relationships.
But what if there’s another way? Neil Denny, a mediator, author, and divorce lawyer from the U.K. has been researching and presenting on conflict, and he suggests that we should work to ENABLE, not avoid, conflict. By approaching conflict in a purposeful way, we can enable it to create positive change in our relationships and our lives.
Denny notes that most people tend to “attack” the other person when in conflict, which naturally leads to defensiveness, or a “counter-attack.” This pattern starts off rounds and rounds of argument, and what Denny calls “conflict fatigue” – everyone is tired of all of the arguing that has taken place, but very little has been solved.
In a lecture he presented in 2012 (which still resonates just as powerfully today), Denny puts forward 6 actions that you can take to get the most out of a conflict situation, and to focus on collaboration rather than combat:
Invite a Discussion – instead of opening the conversation with an attack like, “You never…, or “You always…” Denny suggests approaching the other person with a simple invitation to have a discussion. Tell the other person that there’s a problem you want to discuss, and suggest a time for the discussion to take place. This lets them know that you value making time for a real discussion, instead of launching a one-sided attack.
Encouragement – when discussing the problem with the other party, encourage him or her to give you as many details as possible about their point of view. Really make them feel listened to, and express yourself fully as well. Encouragement allows a full conversation and shows that you are committed to collaboration.
Acknowledgement – Acknowledge that it is reasonable for the other person to have their complaint, even if you don’t agree with it. This validates their concern and makes them more willing to work with you to find a solution.
Agreement – If you do agree with something that the other party says, say, “I agree.” Denny advises us to “build up a mountain of ‘Yeses’ to act as a dam against the ‘Nos’ that would otherwise contaminate that relationship.” Note that he is not saying that you should agree with everything the other person says, nor is agreeing the same as losing the argument. Finding even small points of agreement are helpful to build larger understandings and solutions.
Mirroring – repeat what you’re think you’re hearing to give the other party a chance to set you right. Make sure that you’re not creating conflict out of nothing by misunderstanding what the other person is saying, or their intention behind it.
Solutions – don’t rush to suggest or implement a rushed solution. Take time to collaborate with the other party to create a comprehensive and lasting one that will allow you to both move forward.
By implementing these six tips, Denny says that you will “enable” your conflict to help you create a better way forward. Denny notes that separating couples who approach their conflicts this way actually build up a new relationship even as they are separating – “a new way of respecting, regarding, and communicating with one another.”
Interested in learning more? Watch Neil Denny’s lecture here.