He who has learned to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of a diplomat ~ Robert Estabrook.
I can't help but wonder sometimes how much richer and less stressful life might be if we were taught at an early age the skills to understand and manage conflict and disagreements.
If you think about it, most of us develop our conflict resolution style by default, through the influence of our families and, for better or worse, by toughing it out in school.
And yet, conflict and disagreements are not only inevitable, how we handle them - or don't - can have a significant impact on the quality of our relationships and overall happiness throughout our lives.
Fortunately, it's never too late to begin cultivating the ability to use self-awareness, respect and compromise to effectively avoid or resolve conflict and disagreements and strengthen relationships in the process.
Strategies to Turn Conflict into Opportunities
As with any form of self-improvement, growth begins by understanding your current reality. Which of the following basic approaches best represents how you typically manage conflict and disagreements?
- Accommodate: Letting the other person have their way.
- Avoid: Essentially pretending the conflict never happened or doesn't exist.
- Collaborate: Requires listening to the other side, and looking for creative solutions without concessions.
- Confront: Standing your ground, refusing to yield.
- Compromise: Agreeing to negotiate toward a win/win solution.
Each of the basic approaches to conflict has their pros and cons, and may be suitable depending on the circumstances.
The point to this exercise is that identifying your typical resolution style allows you to then honestly evaluate how this has worked for you up to now. In this way you can begin to either strengthen or change your approach.
Identify Your Triggers
We each have areas where we feel particularly sensitive or vulnerable. Make a list of your conflict "hot buttons" - events or topics of conversation that trigger your anger - and then decide how you could respond to these triggers in an empowering rather than destructive way.
Create a script to help you mentally prepare for controlling your temper when these issues arise, and then practice it until it becomes second nature.
Cultivate Stress Relieving Tactics
Funny things happen when we get pissed off - our stress level ramps up, rapid breathing ensues, and we stop listening to anything but our natural instincts for fight or flight.
Learn to quickly lower your stress level by slowly breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth, and if you need to, walk away and put yourself on a "time out."
As simple as this sounds, very often when a disagreement occurs each party is so anxious to make their point and stand their ground, neither is actively listening to the other. Practicing the "shut up and listen" technique can work wonders to quickly and effectively take control of the situation.
Choose Your Battles
Life is simply too short to get sucked into unnecessary conflicts is the mantra of those who have a preference toward avoiding conflict. If working through a disagreement is more important than maintaining the status quo, then you should speak up.
On the other hand, if the debate is going to create more problems than it solves, you may prefer to remain silent or change the subject.
TIP: Sometimes these little conflicts are actually tipping points signaling far bigger, more serious issues that, for whatever reason, we have been unable - or unwilling - to confront. If you find the number and frequency of seemingly inconsequential conflicts increasing, take the time to explore what's really going on to avoid much bigger problems in the future.
I will never forget one night my newlywed sister-in-law showed up on our doorstep distraught and sobbing her heart out because she was sure her marriage was hopelessly doomed. Once we finally got her calmed down enough to talk, it turned out the problem was her new husband simply refused to put his dirty socks in the hamper and in her mind that meant he never really loved her. Of course we thought that was just newlywed stress over all of the changes, but as it turned out the real problem was far more serious (as in her husband had sex with one of the bridesmaids - at the wedding reception), and they did end up separating a short time later.
Find a Point of Agreement - Even if it's to Disagree
Focus on one issue at a time and try to find something to agree on, even if it's that you agree that it's okay to disagree. When you stop trying to "defeat your opponent," you'll be more receptive to good ideas and resolve conflicts quicker.
Admit it When You're Wrong
Admitting you're wrong can be tough to the point of painful for those hung up on always being "right," but the truth is no one is perfect, so odds are that at some point in your life you will be wrong.
Try to see things from the other person's perspective and think about what might make you feel better, then bite the bullet and take your lumps. The good news is that if you are sincere, you'll find it much easier to begin rebuilding any lost trust.
Moving Past Conflict
Learning to manage conflict and disagreements is an invaluable opportunity for personal growth. Best of all, the more effective you become at it, the less stress you will experience when conflicts do arise, and the stronger and more fulfilling your relationships will grow as a result.
Your turn. If you have any tips or strategies to manage conflict and disagreements, please take a moment to share in a comment below.
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