When Love guides my understanding,
Everything that comes into my life brings valuable lessons.
This includes conflict.
Conflict can often bring opportunity to create team work and build healthier relationships. Conflict helps clarify problems and motivate efforts for developing cooperative problem solving. Often, emotional fluctuations, pressure, and anger may evolve. When managed with healthy intention, conflict can be used to resolve problems. While experiencing conflict, make the goal productive, not destructive. Communication skills empower team work and personal responsibility.
On this page, you will find important information about:
- Conflict Communication
- Non-Verbal Communication
The pages "Communication Basics", "Communication Skills Part 1" ,"2", and "3", provide information about additional communication skills. To a degree, Communication Skills Parts 2, 3, and 4 build on the previous "Part".
Conflicts are usually labeled as fights, arguments, or confrontations. Some underlying reasons for conflict are:
- increased understanding is needed
- one or both parties do not believe their needs are met or fulfilled
- increased cooperation is needed
- decreased competition is required
It is important to realize the needs of both people can be fulfilled. Efforts to care for one does not minimize efforts to care for the other. When conflict is realized, find a way to cooperate, not compete. This decreases tension and increases ability to meet the needs of all.
Examples of Conflict
1: Joe wants to be alone to relax after a difficult work day. Mary feels alone and wants to talk with Joe. Mary tries to get Joe to talk. Joe tries to ignore her. She complains he is shutting her out. He blows up.
In this example, Joe and Mary both have reasonable desires. Without cooperative communication, they collide and produce conflict.
2: John and Jane are arguing. He is irritated. His adrenaline begins to flow, and he feels a headache coming on. He threatens to leave, and stops talking. She is concerned he will leave her, and tries to convince him to stay. He feels more motivation to leave.
Each person feels internal pressure escalating in reaction to the other. Spontaneous thoughts and feelings increase the desire to react without taking time to problem solve in a thoughtful, productive way. Some of his thoughts are: "I can't handle these feelings," and "She is trying to start a fight." Some of her thoughts are: "He is walking away and leaving for good", "He doesn't love me", and "He doesn't care." Their thoughts are worse than reality. If the thoughts are not addressed and resolved, thoughts can create reality over time.
"My mind is the yardstick, and my tongue is the scissors." Siree Guru Granth Sahib
Make your Heart the Guide - Make your thoughts and tongue Heart's tools!!
Myths About Conflict
There are many false beliefs about conflict:
- It is always wise to follow the motto "Peace at any price."
- To avoid conflict in a relationship, one should hide feelings.
- When there is conflict, someone must win.
- When anger is expressed toward me, it means I am not loved.
- When anger is expressed toward me, I become less of a person.
- If I compromise in a conflict, it means I am weak.
- When I am hurt, I shouldn't tell the person who hurt me.
- Conflict always creates hurt feelings.
- When there is conflict, someone has done something wrong.
*Four Productive Models for Conflict Communication*
1. "Blowing off steam," also known as "It's not you."
2. "Confrontation," also known as "It involves you."
3. "Problem-Solving," also known as "Let's negotiate for change."
4. "Time Out."
When the time comes for one of the models to be used, be familiar with the appropriate model to use and the steps to be taken. Ideally, both people in the relationship learn and practice these models prior to implementing them during conflict. It is not always possible to learn the models with another person. It is more difficult to use the models with someone who is unfamiliar with them. Even so, implementing them the best you can is helpful.
"The mouth is the most powerful part of a person." NYC Taxi Driver
Model 1. Blowing off steam/It's not about you:
This model is useful when you are upset about someone or something other than the person you are talking with. You need to vent and you want the other person to listen.
There are three steps in this model: the opening, the issue, and the response.
Step 1-The Opening:
Let the person know-
- you want to talk about your anger, frustration, sadness, etc.
- this feeling does not involve the other person
- you are requesting the other person spend time listening to you
- For example, "I'm upset about something other than you, and I'd like some of your time to talk about it."
- Give the person the opportunity to agree to listen to you, to propose alternatives, or to decline your request. An example response is, "I will gladly listen. However, I am unable to do this now. Can I listen to you in two hours?"
- Explain what, if any, response you want. You most likely do not want logic or advice at this time. You may not want to hear suggestions and opinions. In addition, a judgmental response from the listener, such as "You shouldn't let that make you angry" may increase your anger.
Step 2-The Issue:
- Describe the concern or problem to the listener.
Step 3-The Response:
- The listener responds- if desired and appropriate. Examples of responses are: a hug, a nod, a brief and validating comment.
Model 2. Confrontation/It involves you:
This model is useful when your loved one is the target of your anger or frustration, and you DO NOT feel a need to problem solve (if you do want to problem solve, go to model #3). The goal of this model is to be heard, and to hear. The goal of this model is not to problem solve.
There are four steps in this model: the opening, the issue, reflective listening, and the response.
Step 1-The Opening:
- Tell the other person you are upset with him/her.
- Request agreement to communicate about this. Explain the goal of the communication is not to problem solve, but to hear each other (some issues do not require "solving" beyond hearing each other).
Step 2-The Issue:
- Describe what the other person did, and how you feel. Be sure to use "I Messages (see Communication Skills: Part 1) to explain your experience and your feelings. If you use "You Messages", it will be more difficult for the other to listen.
Step 3-Reflective Listening:
- The listener paraphrases your message. It is best for the listener to use "Reflective Listening (see Communication Skills: Part 1) to increase the quality, clarity, and comfort of his/her communication with you. The structure of reflective listening may feel rehearsed at first.
- When you are sure the issue has been heard accurately, it is time for the listener to express his/her experience (The Response).
Step 4-The Response:
- The listener shares his/her thoughts and feelings about the issue. For example, he/she says, "Yes, I was overwhelmed and forgot to help you, I was so angry." Or, "I was feeling sick, and had to leave immediately."
- You use reflective listening to validate his/her experience (whether the same as yours, or not).
Model 3. Problem solving/Let's negotiate for change:
This model is useful when attempted solutions are unsuccessful. Continuing to use ineffective solutions can itself become a large part of the problem. While it is important to clearly define the problem, it is just as important to understand each person's unsuccessful attempted solutions thus far.
There are seven steps in this model: the opening, the problem, reflective listening, the response, brainstorming, agreement, and the trial period.
Step 1-The Opening:
- State there is a problem you would like to work out with the other person.
- The other person elects to talk now, later, or not at all.
Step 2-The Problem:
- State the problem in simple, clear, and concrete terms. Be clear about who says or does what is perceived as a problem. State how this is a problem for you. (Keep in mind, the other person may not see it as a problem. Different perspectives are fine, as long as there is a desire to understand and accept each other's differences.)
Step 3-Reflective Listening:
- The other person states back what he/she heard as the problem.
Step 4-The Response:
- The listener shares his/her thoughts and feelings about the problem.
- Only after both people believe they have been heard correctly, all the relevant facts and issues have been presented, and the problem has been heard in a clear and concrete way, continue to the next step.
- List a variety of possible changes which might help solve the problem. Search for all new ideas, without judging them.
- Next, identify consequences to the new ideas for change.
- Rank the alternatives in terms of desirability and work-ability.
- Continue this process until both agree on the most promising idea to try first.
Step 7-Trial Period:
- Agree on a trial period in which the new solution can be implemented.
- Re-negotiate if needed.
- In most situations, you will both feel more willing to try a new approach if you don't feel tied to it forever. At first, the new approach may feel unfamiliar and unstable.
- It is common for people to have difficulties when trying to problem solve. There is no easy, quick-fix approach. The process involves commitment, effort, time, and often some frustration.
In order to decrease difficulties in problem-solving:
Take your time:
You are trying to find new ways to deal with old problems. Your mind will have trouble being creative if you feel hurried. Hurrying produces stress. Stress usually promotes a default to old ways, old habits, and old patterns. By slowing down, you can feel more in control of yourself, and less threatened by the other. If you are use to hurrying and stress, the slowness may feel uncomfortable at first.
Agree to discuss a problem before you try to solve it. Agreement balances power, reduces the sense of threat, and reduces resistance.
Be clear in defining the problem you want solved. Focus on the words or behavior producing the difficulty. The following is an example of the difference between a vague problem description and a specific problem description:
Vague- "I don't think you show me enough consideration."
Specific-"I get very upset when you say you will call, but then you don't call."
Stay with one issue at a time. Problem-solving requires concentration and focused attention.
One step at a time:
Do not try to find solutions before you have agreed on the issues. If you try to solve problems, before understanding each other, you may be creating a bigger problem.
Develop small and specific steps to solve problems differently. Large steps toward change generally have less success.
Shorter and slower:
Research has shown short sentences communicate best. Fifty percent of adults cannot understand a sentence longer than thirteen words. After word eleven, thirty percent forget the beginning of the sentence.
Model 4. Time Out:
This model is for times communication is out of control. The words may be unproductive, feelings may have escalated, and/or goals may be unclear. Intent can shift from problem-solving to attacking, blaming, and defending. Using "Time Out" provides an opportunity to calm down and then return to problem-solving. While "Time Out" is used to reduce overly-stressed communications; "Time Out" is NOT intended to avoid communication.
There are three steps in this model: the "stop message", the agreement, and resume communication.
Step 1- "Stop Message" :
- Say "I need a time-out now." If helpful, add "This relationship is important to me. I do not want to prevent healthy communication."
This can be combined with one sentence of explanation:
"I feel the communication is not productive now"
"Right now, I feel hurt and I'm fighting"
"I need a break"
- Use "I Messages", to take responsibility for at least part of the communication breakdown.
- Both agree to stop the discussion, and to resume communication later. Agree on a time to check in with each other about the state of emotions, and whether both are ready to resume the discussion. Typically, the "Time Out" is at least 20 minutes. If needed, it can be several hours. However, it is best to resume the discussion within 24 hours.
Step 3-Resume Communication:
- Check in with each other to know whether it is time to resume the communication. If either person is not ready, agree on the next time to check in.
- Repeat as necessary.
There are many ways to communicate non-verbally: facial expression, tone of voice, eye contact, posture, gesture, silence, and action. You can express sadness with a frown, anger with a glare, boredom with a yawn, and happiness with a smile. If your loved one is sad and crying, and you sit with him/her, share a hug, or cry together, you are offering support, connection, and compassion.
Become aware of your non-verbal messages, as these messages often have a greater impact on the communication than your words do. Others pay attention to yur non-verbal messages, even when you don't notice the non-verbal messages you send. For example, when you are frustrated, your body may begin to show signs of frustration such as frowning, increased breathing, escalating volume, or flushed skin color. The other person may notice your body's signs of emotion before you are aware of these changes in you non-verbal communication.
Use your body's non-verbal expressions as additional information about yourself. Your body's cues can help you identify emotions while they are more easily soothed and resolved. These cues are your body communicating to you.
Non-Verbal Communication Skills
Keep an open posture.
- Have your arms and legs uncrossed.
- Face the person you are talking with.
- Maintain eye contact.
- Do not allow yourself to become overly emotional.
- If you feel angry, be responsible and manage your anger before verbalizing (see Communication Skills Part 5).
- Use calm and assertive comments and requests. They are perceived as more valid than an angry outburst.
- Have all parts of your communication be in agreement with each other: words, tone of voice, and body language.
- Incongruence occurs when there appears to be a lack of agreement between the various parts of expression.
- An example of incongruence: thanking someone, and having a frown on your face.
- Incongruence creates confusion. Congruence promotes clarity and understanding.
When it appears the other persons message is incongruent, use an "I Message" to bring attention to this. State that your goal in bringing attention is to decrease your confusion and increase your understanding of his/her message.
- If your loved one's words say she is happy to do what you asked, and her face has an expression of exhaustion and her tone of voice is irritated, comment about your confusion. Your comment or question may help her realize how tired she is. She may feel she wants to help you, but now realizes it may be best to say "Yes, but I am too tired now. I will do it later".