Hygge part 7 - resolving conflict - 3 strategies to manage conflict without losing your cool
If you’re reading this when it’s posted, Happy New Year and here’s to a great 2018. Now the festivities of Christmas and New Year are over, it’s time to start tackling the challenges and opportunities the coming year will bring and I would suspect that over the next couple of months or so one of those challenges is going to be maintaining harmony at home and/or at work as people enter what I think of as the most challenging part of winter, that period when the holidays are over, but it’s still a long way until spring. So let’s look at the causes of conflict and see what you can do to manage it.
Causes of conflict
Conflict is basically what happens when two or more perspectives collide. An individual can feel internal conflict, which can manifest itself externally as frustration and/or stress and of course when individuals come together, conflict of some form can result. Fortunately, some forms of conflict can be relatively easy to resolve, so here are 3 strategies to manage conflict without losing your cool.
Recognize that conflict is going to happen
I get the impression that being frank about the Christmas period is one of Western society’s last remaining taboos. Hopefully the festive season really will be a wonderful time of the year for most people, but, let’s be honest, if you went by the media, especially commercials and infomercials, you’d think it was nothing but spectacular parties in immaculately-decorated homes with people in designer everything. Real life for most people is nothing like that and frankly that’s fine with me. I like Pinterest as much as the next person, but I don’t want to live in it.
Be alert to the signs of conflict
Even people with “short fuses” tend to show some advance warning signs before they “go bang”. Keep your eyes and ears open so that you can recognize them and act quickly. Of course, you’re only human so you may find that conflict does bubble up before you notice it. That’s fine, just act as quickly as you can to deal with the situation and you have three options for doing so.
Dealing with conflict: distract, separate or reconcile
In my experience, every approach to resolving conflict comes down to one of the above.
Distract the fighters
Distraction is great for dealing with childhood squabbles and it works pretty well on adults too. For the very youngest children, calm-down jars may work a treat and as they get older you can start to switch over to the likes of toys and games, physical or digital. For adults, particularly yourself, in cases of self-conflict and/or when you feel you are going to lose your temper, start by distracting yourself. There are lots of ways to do this, you could visualize a peaceful image (like the one above), try mantras and affirmations (it may sound weird but for some people it works), take deep breaths (good for all kinds of reasons), go for a walk or just do something, anything, different until you’ve cooled down and regained your mental balance.
Separate the combattants
If you’re in charge and you can, just splitting up two (or more) people having a spat can be all it takes. In time, tempers will cool and then you can see if anything further needs to be done to resolve the situation. If you can’t separate them physically, then try enforcing some mental separation. The likes of tablets and/or headphones can be great here, but be careful with full-on noise-cancelling headphones as the ability to hear does serve a useful purpose and does help to keep us safe. Depending on the individual and situation, either music or silence could be a good option or, for older children and adults, you could try soothing meditation/affirmation recordings. I agree they’re not for everyone, but what is? If you’re the one about to lose your temper you could try any of the above on yourself or else do whatever it takes for you to get yourself some mental space. This may mean distracting yourself to the point where you get enough control to focus on keeping calm and clearing your mind of negativity.
Reconcile the differing views
This is the part of resolving conflict which tends to get the most attention, I suspect because it is both the most visible and often the most difficult. Ironically, out of all the conflicts there are in the world, I suspect only a few of them go down the route of reconciliation purely because distraction and separation tend to be easier and perfectly effective in most cases.
Here’s the truth about different viewpoints, both can be equally valid and you can acknowledge this fact without feeling that by doing so you are agreeing with it.
In families (and actually in the workplace as well), the classic example of this is the spender versus the saver. The spender spends now because they want to enjoy life today as, for all they know, it could end tomorrow. The saver saves now because they know that in all probability life will go on and they want to be prepared for what it could throw at them. Getting people to understand that other people act on the basis of what they perceive to be positive intentions is the first step in setting the scene for conflict resolution. The second is to get them to appreciate that there is a big difference between sincerely recognizing that another person can hold a valid viewpoint which is wildly different, even offensive, to your own (rather than just paying lip service to the concept of agreeing to differ) and accepting that the person is right (or even that there is a specific right in the situation).
These steps also apply when you are working to reconcile a conflict within yourself, for example when you have an important decision to make and are torn between different options, typically what you feel you should do and what you feel you want to do.
Once you (or the people concerned) have accepted this, you’re in a position to work towards a mutually-acceptable solution, which generally means all concerned get a bit of what they want. The technical term for this is “zone of potential agreement” and even if it’s small, it’s usually there somewhere. In working your way towards this zone, there are four key points to remember.
Many harsh words are spoken in haste and anger. Let tempers cool and emotions rebalance before you start any meaningful discussions and be prepared to recognize that when people speak harshly during an argument, they often regret it afterwards, even if they’re not open to admitting this at first. This may be because they think that if they apologize for what they said or even how they said it, they may be perceived as weak and/or admitting that the other person was right all along.
Give people time to warm up and develop a feeling of confidence that they will be listened to. People do not necessarily feel comfortable about discussing their true feelings and their real motives for acting as they do. This is particularly likely if they think they’re just going to be ignored, dismissed or judged. You need to give people time to come out of their shells before you can expect any meaningful communication.
Prove yourself worthy of their trust and, if need be, prompt others to recognize that the person speaking has their own world view and deserves to have it acknowledged and for you and anyone else involved to make the effort to understand it, not necessarily agree with it, just understand it.
Be prepared to ask questions, respectfully, until you get the information you need. Remember people may find it hard to explain how their are thinking or feeling (children especially so, but even many adults) and you need to give them your support to do so.
Once you’ve established what each person sees as the beneficial purpose behind their actions and why they think their view is the right one (for them at least), then you can start to work (often slowly) towards a solution. In the save/spend situation, the solution would typically be to agree a “spend now” budget and a “save for later” budget. The negotiation would be about agreeing the percentages.
The same basic principles apply to resolving conflict within yourself, but it can be a bit more challenging to mediate for yourself, especially when you’re feeling emotional. For some people, writing down their thoughts can help, alternatively, you could talk it through with someone you trust, such as a family member or friend or even a therapist.