When faced with conflict most of us see only two options, “turn the other cheek” or “stand up and be strong.” Most of us realize that it is never this black or white. Although in the “heat of the moment” it is usually easier to fight or flee, the goal is to develop communication skills that allow us to discover a mutually beneficial resolution. Communication skills among family members range from “begging for a fight: lose-lose” to “mutual satisfaction: win-win.” Those families that maintain life-long positive communication develop their skills by rigidly adhering to the following “Nine Habits.”
ACKNOWLEDGE AND RESPECT DIFFERENCES
Many family members react to a difference of opinion as if it were a challenge, evidence of betrayal, or an effort to impose control. If you find yourself reacting in this manner, you are probably eliminating opportunities to resolve the conflict.
AVOID SPEAKING WITH AN ATTITUDE OF ABSOLUTE CERTAINTY
Speaking dogmatically and blaming others thwarts effective communication. Get curious about your reactions, and help others to understand them.
What is the nature or source of your emotional reaction? Are you assuming and attributing motivation to the other individual? Did the other individual commit a minor faux pas about which you are extremely sensitive, or were they intentionally malicious?
If you can adopt an attitude of curiosity rather than one of judgment and accusation, you will encourage others to do the same. Exploring perceptions and experiences (getting curious) stops the vicious cycle of escalating attacks and counterattacks.
EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS WITH CLEAR “I” STATEMENTS
Feelings such as hurt, anger and fright must be expressed and acknowledged before mutual problem solving can begin. However, the use of accusatory “you” statements creates a defensive reaction in others.
The use of an “I” statement is the practical application of “owning one’s own feelings” and tends to eliminate harsh criticism or judgmental statements in retaliation.
ADOPT A NON-DEFENSIVE LISTENING STYLE
Successful conflict resolution assumes the willingness of all parties to listen with empathy to the other party’s vulnerable expressions. Defensive reactions usually destroy the opportunity for resolution. Sensitive listening encourages the speaker to express themselves in a non-accusatory manner.
Explaining a cause or offering a justification is not the issue. Rather, the other person’s emotional reaction is your immediate focus. This is especially true in a family-held business where emotional concerns frequently color what should be an objective business consideration.
STAY FOCUSED ON THE CURRENT ISSUE
Dredging up past evidence of mistreatment or misconduct interferes with finding a solution for the present problem.
Old feelings are important to resolve, but are best addressed if preceded by a disclaimer. The individual with an old, unresolved issue may need to say, “I am probably reacting strongly to this ____, because I am still upset about an old issue we need to resolve.”
USE COOLING OFF PERIODS CONSTRUCTIVELY
Many people spend too much time justifying their own position and generating an attitude of righteousness when they are alone.
Use time alone to move toward a solution instead of digging in deeper with your own views. Look for the “win-win” solution. Try to understand what pushes your hot button and put any false beliefs or assumptions into perspective.
ATTEMPT TO IDENTIFY SHARED INTERESTS OR COMMON GROUND
Put differences in perspective by focusing on issues that all parties agree upon. The fact that both parties have hurt feelings or that both want to protect their children, want to save their business, etc. will create a positive starting point for building constructive relationships.
ENGAGE IN MUTUAL PROBLEM SOLVING
Processing feelings without searching for a solution is ultimately not successful. Always begin by acknowledging your own emotional reactions and the feelings of the other person involved. Then, try using a problem solving model such as: When (situation-no judgment), I feel ___. It would help me to (change in feeling), if you could ___.
For example, “When decisions are made without my involvement, I feel discounted. It would help me to feel more involved if you could use email to advise me that decisions are about to be made.”
SIGNAL RESOLUTION OF THE CONFLICT
In order to learn that conflict is not dangerous, but can actually lead to greater closeness, it is essential to signal that conflict will not remain a permanent barrier in the relationship. This signal might be a hug, a hand shake, or words such as “I am glad we worked this out.”
If however, resolution is not fully achieved, the parties might agree to disagree or might say, “Let’s put this aside for now and come back to it later.”
We are all emotional beings and therefore, at times, following these guidelines is almost impossible. When under stress or pressure, we may lose our wisdom and revert to old habits that are counter-productive.
If you need help with conflict resolution within your family and feel an outside moderator might help your business work past some obstacles REGENERATION can help.