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Conflicts and misunderstandings occur at all levels of interaction – at work, among friends, within families and between relationship partners. When conflict occurs, the relationship may be weakened or strengthened. Thus, conflict is a critical event in the course of a relationship. Arguments and misunderstandings can cause resentment, hostility and perhaps the ending of the relationship. If it is handled well, however, it can be productive – leading to deeper understanding, mutual respect and closeness. The health of any relationship is gauged by how the conflicts are resolved, rather than the number of conflicts between the participants. Conflicts run all the way from minor, unimportant differences to disputes which can threaten the existence of a relationship. Conflicts with a loved one or a long-term friend are, of course, different from negotiating with someone who does not care about your needs, like a stranger or a salesperson.
Principles that underscores all successful conflict resolution.
- Both parties must view their conflict as a problem to be solved together so that both parties have the feeling of winning.
- Each person must participate actively in the resolution and make an effort and commitment to find answers which are as fair as possible to both.
We may get so caught up with our own immediate interests that we damage our relationships. If we disregard the position of the other person, if fear and power are used to win, or if we always have to get our own way, the other person will feel hurt and the relationship may be wounded. Similarly, if we always surrender just to avoid conflict, we give the message to the other person that it is acceptable to be bullied and our needs don’t matter. Our feeling of self-worth suffers, resentment surfaces, and we feel frustrated in the relationship. Instead, it is healthier if both parties can remain open, honest, assertive and respectful of the other position. Mutual trust and respect, as well as a positive, constructive attitude, are fundamental necessities in relationships that matter.
Some Effective Strategies To Hold Effective Communications:
- Initial Agreement: The other person may be very angry with you and may be having loads of evidence to prove himself right. At that time, instead of arguing your position, simply agree at that time because there will be a grain of truth if nothing else. This doesn’t mean that you are giving up your values and principles. Sometimes its important to diffuse the emotional charge before working out on the differences. Sometimes its ok to ‘lose’ individually in order to ‘win’ together in the end.
- Empathy: Sometimes putting yourself in the other persons shoes and seeing the problem from their perspective helps build bridges. You could say,’ I feel that you must be very upset with me for behaving like that with you, I should have been more considerate’. Half the battle is won and the other participant feels validated and will be more willing to listen to your tale of woes more amicably.
- Ask Questions: When you ask questions, it shows that you care and are interested to resolve the problem at hand. Please note that while asking questions, be watchful of your words and tone. Asking exploratory questions about the other persons thoughts and feelings rather than probing and insulting questions can take you miles on the way to effective resolution. For eg. ‘Is there anything that you would like me to know about this problem’?
- Using ‘I’ Statements: Take responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings rather than blaming the other person for making you feel like that. This decreases the chance that the other person will become defensive. For example, ‘I feel pretty upset that this thing has come between us.’ This statement is much more effective than saying, ‘You have made me feel very upset.’
- Compliments: Find something nice and genuine to say about the other person, even if the other is angry with you. Show a respectful attitude. For example, ‘I genuinely respect you for having the courage to bring this problem to me. I admire your strength and your caring attitude.’
A Rational Approach To Resolving Conflicts:
Here is a model that may help in resolving interpersonal conflicts.
- Identify the Problem. Have a discussion to understand both sides of the problem. The goal at this initial stage is to say what you want and to listen to what the other person wants. Define the things that you both agree on, as well as the ideas that have caused the disagreement. It is important to listen actively to what the other is saying, use ‘I’ statements and avoid blame.
- Come Up With Several Possible Solutions. This is the brainstorming phase. Drawing on the points that you both agree on and your shared goals, generate a list of as many ideas as you can for solving the problem, regardless of how feasible they might be. Aim toward quantity of ideas rather than quality during this phase, and let creativity be your guide.
- Evaluate These Alternative Solutions. Now go through the list of alternative solutions to the problem, one by one. Consider the pros and cons of the remaining solutions until the list is narrowed down to one or two of the best ways of handling the problem. It is important for each person to be honest in this phase. The solutions might not be ideal for either person and may involve compromise.
- Decide on the Best Solution. Select the solution that seems mutually acceptable, even if it is not perfect for either party. As long as it seems fair and there is a mutual commitment to work with the decision, the conflict has a chance for resolution.
- Implement the Solution. It is important to agree on the details of what each party must do, who is responsible for implementing various parts of the agreement, and what to do in case the agreement starts to break down.
- Continue to Evaluate the Solution. Conflict resolutions should be seen as works in progress. Make it a point to ask the other person from time to time how things are going. Something unexpected might have come up or some aspect of the problem may have been overlooked. Your decisions should be seen as open to revision, as long as the revisions are agreed upon mutually.
Keep in mind that differences will come up in any relationship just because you two are different individuals with different perspectives, ideologies, attitudes and perceptions. Too much similarity in personality and working styles may be comforting but can be very boring and uninspiring overtime. On the other hand, differences can bring change, novelty and an added spice to the relationship. Two very different people can pool their different strengths and work together as a stronger team. Though, extreme differences may overtime sour the relationship and make living or working together difficult. You also need to look out for an emotionally or physically abusive relationship, which is based on power differential rather than respect and trust. A person may then choose to opt out after an amicable ‘goodbye’ or ‘agree to disagree’.