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Managing Conflicts
By Angela Jackson   Printer Friendly Version

I think that managing conflict is like learning to ride a bicycle - it's easy when you get some help balancing, and practice, practice, practice! The difficulty most of us run into is that we expect ourselves to be good conflict managers without having learned the skills, then we get mad at ourselves for doing the same thing over and over again, getting the same predictable results. We react habitually because we don't know any other way. We didn't take conflict management in school along with science and math. Our role models may not have had great skills either, so we end up dealing with conflict the way our parents did, or vowing to take the opposite approach.

In other words, we muddle through, doing the best we can, getting the same woeful results, not understanding why we get caught and not having tools to do it differently.

It's important to understand this so we don't become frustrated with ourselves, and expect instant change.

Good conflict management is a learned skill. In many instances it goes against our basic reaction of "flight or fight." First we need to acknowledge the pain conflict brings into our life and be willing to let go of ineffective habits and knee-jerk reactions. Then we can concentrate on applying new behaviors. Often when we decide to change ourselves, we want others to change as well, so it's important to develop a "live and let live" approach.

One of the best arenas for practicing conflict management is in our relationships with others, particularly those we're closest to, because that's where we get into the most difficulty. Below are Seven Strategies for Success, which I find very useful.

  1. Notice your body language and tone of voice. Are you projecting what you intend to?
  2. Listen, and then listen again. Listen with your eyes and ears. Listen to what the person is not saying. Listen with your heart.
  3. Let go of the inner judge - that part of you that criticizes and attacks. Banish your fault-finder by taking a deep breath and substituting a positive thought instead. (This process is never ending, so you'll have plenty of opportunities to practice!)
  4. Deal with the present situation only - no past examples to score points!
  5. Ask yourself: "Do I want to be right or happy?" Then decide. After all, you're the one who gets to live with the consequences of your choice.
  6. Omit words like NEVER, SHOULD and ALWAYS from your communication. These words tend to escalate conflicts.
  7. Take full responsibility for the communication. This means doing whatever is necessary to ensure that you are creating an inclusive dialogue in which each person feels seen, heard and understood.

You've noticed no doubt, that these strategies are all for you, and not the other person. That's because you're the one reading this article, so if you want change, be the change you want to see happen! When we use these tools, the Strategies for Success, we get to understand and appreciate our human differences, which in turn revitalize and strengthen our relationships. As the saying goes, "what goes around comes around," so give the very best of yourself and be prepared to receive the best from others. Enjoy practicing!

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