Moving from Conflict to Connection
I once had a professor (an expert in conflict and communication) say that in life we are either presently in a conflict, just getting out of conflict or about to enter a conflict. Conflict is the condition in which people’s concerns – the things they care about – appear to be incompatible. Conflict is inevitable. Human beings are dynamic and can have very different perspectives – even with loved ones. However, conflict does not have to be a “negative” thing. If managed well, it can bring us closer to our true selves, and ensure our needs and the needs of our loved ones are met.
The simple solution to conflict is to foster clear and committed communication with one another. Clear communication begins with connecting with self first. We can only connect with others, whether partners, friends or family members when we are connected to our feelings, our needs, and ourselves. Conflict or difficult conversations are always based on feelings. So if we can get clear with our feelings, then we can move into deeper connection with ourselves and other people.
Non-Violent Communication, created by Marshall Rosenberg, discusses how to get clarity on your needs. The first step is to name what you are feeling, and then name what need is not being met. The best way to do that is to look for what is driving the feeling or upset. There, you will find your unmet need. Once you have clarity on the need, then you are then able to meet your partner, family member, or friend with a request.
But here is the truth – a request is not a guarantee. The other person has no obligation to meet your request. It is best to remember that we only have control over ourselves. Every human being manages personal conflict differently. The Thomas-Kilman Conflict Mode Assessment Instrument defines 5 different ways we deal with conflict:
- Assertive and Uncooperative
- Pursues own concerns at others expense
- May use power to win a position
- Defending a position believed to be correct
- Does not address conflict
- Postpones an issue until a better time
- Withdraws due to feeling threatened
- Unassertive and Cooperative
- Neglects own concerns to satisfy others
- Self- sacrificing
- Selfless generosity or charity
- Falls on middle ground
- Splitting the difference
- Assertive and Cooperative
- Pursues solutions that satisfy both self and others
- Explores disagreement to learn from each other’s insights
- Digs into an issue to identify underlying concerns
Knowing and/or becoming aware of our style or preference of dealing with conflict gives us power, and when we have power we have choices – choices of how to move forward from conflict to resolution/connection. The truth is we all have the ability to use any of the 5 conflict management styles outlined above. And different conflict situations sometimes require different styles and/or approaches.
If you are married, co-parenting, or in a committed relationship, conflict will and does arise. Here are my suggestions on how to move forward in a way that can leave you feeling more empowered, grounded, and hopefully more connected with yourself and your partner.
1.Take a break from the conflict/conversation.
2. Agree to a time you will meet again to connect and communicate.
3.Then, go someplace safe and quiet and breathe, breathe, breathe. Really take in some deep breaths and get present with yourself and your emotions.
4. Connect with your body. What do you notice? Where in your body do you feel tense?
5. Open your mind to curiosity. Breathe again.
6. What feelings are present? (Journaling is a great way to connect with yourself)
7. Bring in self-compassion and self-love. What do you most need?
8. Call a close friend and ask them to listen while you talk it through. Ask for their loving support, most of the time, powerful listening is all we need to get clear.
Once you have established a true connection and compassion with yourself and feel grounded, then you can think about what your partner may need or want most? Remain curious. Find your empathy. Now you probably do not have all the information and understanding of your partner’s needs but you can find a place of compassion for one another, knowing you are both human and you are simply in a state of conflict of assumed differences.
The next conversation, assuming you are both committed to coming back into connection will help you find your common ground. Here are my suggestions (Doʼs and Dontʼs) for resolving your conflict.
- Do state your needs and feelings in “I” statements
- Do get curious about the other person
- Do stay connected with yourself – check in with your body. Doing so offers a wealth of information
- Do take turns sharing and listening
- Do be aware of your differences in communication styles and name them
- Do not blame (this will bring up shame which will bring up anger or shutting down)
- Do not assume the other person’s feelings, actions or intentions.
- Do not bring up past conflict, yell, or name calling
- Do not interrupt the other person while he/she is sharing
- Do not leave the conversation unless you both agree to talk again at a later time
Human relationships thrive on love and connection. Remembering love as you walk through conflict can be your best tool. And sometimes our upset is so great remembering the love can be difficult. My suggestion to you is to remember first and foremost to connect with yourself, your body, mind, and spirit. If you start with self-love and compassion, from there, anything is possible.