Can Your Family Handle Conflict?

A and B gossip about C behind her back, then compliment her to her face.  D tries to form an alliance with E, who is secretly allied with both A and L and F and M.  F tells M what E told him, but with just a little twist, while E confesses to B that he can’t trust E, and thinks that C is an idiot.  And all of the letters, from A to Z, have only one real goal in mind:  to win.If we’re talking about a reality show, that’s fine, or, if not fine, at least comparatively harmless and predictable.  But if you took the quiz yesterday, you might be thinking this is pretty good description of your family.  If so, that is going hinder your progress toward self actualization.  Here are some ways you can encourage more productive conflict resolution in your family:

  • First things first. When emotions are running high, don’t try to problem solve and reason things out.   The first response to intense conflict is to allow everyone involved to vent their feelings.  Wait until the intensity subsides before trying to go cerebral with a problem.
  • Tolerate feelings. Most people these days know that it’s important to teach toddlers to express their feelings – “I’m sad.  It makes me feel bad when you won’t let me play.”  But when that toddler has stretched into a dark-eyed teenager that slams doors and uses unsavory language, his feelings might feel more like an assault.  You don’t have to abandon the rules in your house (“You may not put your fist through the wall”) but the more you focus on hearing the feeling instead of rule violations, the better the relationship will function.
  • Teach the strategies. If you are in the midst of a conflict, that isn’t the time to establish rules of engagement or teach communication strategies.  But it’s critical that, once the conflict is resolved, you go back and set the groundwork so that the next conflict can be more productive.  You can say, “You know, mom, when I come to you with something I’m upset about, I need to feel like you hear me.  I know you have issues with me too, and I’m willing to listen and try to resolve them.  But when you bring them up as a rebuttal to my concern, I feel like you’re shutting me down instead of listening.”  This can be hard, because you may feel like you’re starting another conflict just when things have gotten peaceful, but it’s necessary if you want to improve conflict resolution in your family.
  • Resolution doesn’t mean declaring a champ. Often, allowing each involved party to express their feelings is enough to settle a conflict.  Family  members, newly aware of a sensitive spot, will tread more carefully.    Sometimes changes need to be made, and that can make for some grappling.  But it is never necessary for one person to win a conflict in a family and one person to lose. Either everyone’s needs are met, or the entire family suffers.
  • Meet people where they are. Some family members may not respond well to  even the most gentle insistence on change.  Some family members may change for a short time and then revert back to negative behaviors.  You are responsible for setting and enforcing boundaries in your life.  If your grown daughter will not refuel your car after borrowing it, you don’t lend it to her again.  If your brother continues to challenge you on your religious beliefs, you simply refuse to discuss the topic again and walk away.  If one of your family members is constantly unpleasant, minimize the time that you see them, and try to focus on the lovable qualities when you’re together.

Sometimes it is the most difficult to be the self you are trying to be in the presence of family members who have seen you at your worst.  But to attain self actualization you have to develop the confidence and inner peace to positively manage your end of the many relationships that effect you, including with your family.

Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation, leadership, and teams. His tools and methods have helped hundreds of businesses and tens of thousands of people transform the ways they work and live. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com.


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