Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means.
- Ronald Reagan
Effective communication is without a doubt one of the most important skills you can develop. In every area of life, you rely on communication to effectively translate your thoughts into words and to impart information to others. An inability to easily convey your thoughts, views, opinions, emotions, and needs can lead to errors, misunderstandings, and frustration. In many cases, it results in the dissolution of relationships with family, friends, spouses, and coworkers.
Communication is not limited to just speech and writing, although that is the primary means for expressing your needs. Communication can also be conveyed through body language, facial expressions, eye movements, and hand gestures. In every moment that you are interacting with another person, some form of communication is taking place. It can only be considered a success when both parties clearly understand what is being conveyed.
In today’s world, people have become highly focused on communicating through smart phones and tablets, which leaves a large margin for disconnection, misinterpretation, and offense. Many people will decline an incoming phone call only to send an immediate reply via text message. More and more, it seems, people are less inclined to engage with one another in real time, which can make clear and effective communication even more challenging. In an age where you rely so heavily on technology, it’s especially important that you become skilled in clearly articulating information to others. And, when communication fails, you must also be educated in how to resolve the conflicts that arise.
No matter how you approach life, conflict is going to happen. It’s part of human nature and simply cannot be avoided. However, gaining an understanding of how people best respond during difficult conversations will help to minimize communication breakdowns.
As a being who is hardwired with the “fight or flight” response, you are naturally programmed to respond to conflict either by fighting or fleeing. The psychological equivalent to the “fight or flight” response perpetuates a tendency to either be overly aggressive in these circumstances or to shy away from them entirely—you either fight with your words or you avoid the situation altogether. At the end of the day, neither approach really works and the mental-emotional fallout that occurs over time becomes detrimental to your physical health.
Moving toward conflict resolution in a direct yet diplomatic and respectful way affords you the opportunity to move beyond the confines of a limited perspective, enabling everyone involved to learn, grow, and effect positive change.
In any approach to conflict resolution, it is imperative to remember that both points of view are equally valid and that there is no good, bad, right, or wrong. A resolution can always be reached providing the parties involved hold that as being their highest intention. Here are the three factors involved in healthy conflict resolution.
A compromise is a settlement of differences, an agreement reached by adjusting conflicting or opposing viewpoints or positions through a reciprocal modification of needs and requests. It’s essentially a meeting in the middle.
Compromise is a critical component for any healthy relationship. Without a willingness to compromise, it is nearly impossible to find a middle ground where both sides are feeling recognized, heard, and appreciated. Whenever you find yourself at an impasse with another person, this is a good time to ask yourself, “Do I want to be right or do I want to have peace?” Recognize that arguing over the minutia will only serve to isolate you further, while letting go of the little things will free up precious time and energy that is better spent on positive interaction.
A good place to start with any compromise is to listen intently to the other person, then imagine putting yourself in their shoes (and vice versa). Understanding where another person is coming from will often help you gain a greater level of perspective, making compromise easier to attain. When you show empathy toward another, it helps to soften both sides. This doesn’t mean you need to agree with their perspective, but at least you can show your support by respecting their feelings.
Be open and flexible in your willingness to compromise and recognize that each person will be giving something up in order to meet on common ground. Compromise is not a sign of weakness or giving in. Rather, it demonstrates emotional intelligence, integrity, and character. Compromise helps both sides to find a “win-win” and you may even come up with creative solutions that neither of you had considered before.
In any negotiation, the first thing you want to do is make sure agreement is possible. If either party is righteous in their position to the point they are unwilling to resolve the conflict, no amount of negotiation will be successful.
Set an intention for the negotiation. Have both sides state their intention at the beginning of the discussion. For example, my goal is to resolve our difference in opinion on how to raise our children or my goal is to reach an agreement on how best to market the launch of our product.
The next step is to discover the position of each of the parties involved in the conflict (the problem) and to ensure that both parties are able to make a decision. Meaning, make sure you’re negotiating with the right person. There is no point in negotiating with the manager when, at the end of the conversation, the manager then says, “Okay, now I need to talk to the Director.”
When you’re ready to begin, choose a side to start. Perhaps begin with the person who has the highest emotional charge and needs to vent first. Give them an opportunity to express their position and any strong emotions associated with the event that precipitated them. Really listen to them without interruption and without anticipating what you want to say when they are finished. Just be present with them while they speak. Then change sides.
In any conflict, it is important to avoid being passive-aggressive, which is to act out through indirect behaviors and, while it is good to be assertive, take care to refrain from being hostile or aggressive. Identify what is happening, and state your position and how you believe your point of view supports the overall intention.
Take care in articulating your concerns about a specific behavior or plan of action and state your case in a clear, concise, and respectful way. Both parties should now be able to see that—big picture—they both want the same thing (love, financial success for the organization, the best for their children, etc.).
Once you come to a place of agreement, the next major step is to keep in mind the highest intention while calmly identifying what behaviors will move you powerfully forward toward the best outcome, and what behaviors should be avoided so as to not digress back into conflict. If at the end of the conversation, a common ground hasn’t been found or the problem hasn’t been resolved, you may need to seek support.
When compromise and negotiation just aren’t happening, mediation may be the next best route to take. The legal definition for mediation is a settlement of a dispute by setting up an independent person between two contending parties in order to aid them in the settlement of their dispute.
The only real difference between negotiation and mediation is that there is now a middle person present to help facilitate the discussion, leading to settlement. This is often the best approach to take when all other options have been exhausted and yet both parties have a mutual desire to reach agreement.
Understand that nobody is perfect and learning to effectively overcome adversity and opposition is a life-long practice. Those who become skilled at conflict resolution demonstrate a high level of emotional intelligence, integrity, maturity, and character. Remember, you are doing your best from your level of awareness in the moment. Practicing these steps in conflict resolution will inevitably evolve you into a well-respected, admired, and successful human being.
In dwelling, live close to the ground. In thinking, keep to the simple. In conflict, be fair and generous. In governing, don't try to control. In work, do what you enjoy. In family life, be completely present. - Lao Tzu