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"Why do you guys always play the race card?  You can't blame me for stuff that happened before I was born!"

"I get it that you disagree with Obama.  But doesn't the Presidency deserve a little more respect?"
"He broke the law!  Every criminal deserves to be punished!" 

"I'm trying as hard as I can with the kids!  You sound just like your mother!"

Conflict happens when opposing opinions are expressed with strong emotions over high stakes. It happens in every relationship where people are communicating as personally as possible.  So when #conflict pops up in your life, it doesn't necessarily mean that the relationship is in trouble.  And it's helpful to know how to manage conflict effectively.

There are dozens of ways to do this, and it helps to get better at all of them.  if you want to focus just on one useful conflict management skill, try defusing, pulling the fuse out so the explosive won't go off.

Step #1  Defuse Yourself

When conflict heats up, it almost always gets worse.  So lower your own temperature by asking yourself these seven questions--or at least as many of them as you can recall when you're in the midst of it.

  • What are the possible benefits of this clash?  Conflicts are not all bad.  Especially after they're over, they can build confidence in a relationship ("We got through that pretty well!"), get crucial feelings out in the open, nudge or wrench a relationship out of a rut, and improve the quality of a joint decision.  Take 10 seconds to reflect on how this one might be helpful.
  • Am I remembering that she/he doesn't see this like I do?  From their poiint of view, the other person's actions make sense.  They think and feel that they're being reasonable.  Am I remembering this?
  • Do I understand what they're saying and feeling?  Have I actually listened to them?
  • What am I doing to intensify or prolong the conflict?  Our natural tendency is to blame the other person for all the bad parts of conflict.  But since all communication is collaborative (U&ME: Communicating in Moments that Matter, Chapter 2), everyone involved is contributing.  I'm helping build whatever's here--the hurt, disappointment, fear, etc.  This doesn't mean it's "all my fault."  We're in this together.  But since my natural tendency is to forget my role, it helps to ask myself this question--even out loud.
  • Am I making myself the target?  Am I feeling attacked by someone who's just having a bad day?  Instead of defending myself, can I try to understand where they're coming from?
  • Are my goals realistic?  One way to insure failure is to set unreasonable goals.  What am I trying to get out of this conflict?  Can I scale down my expectations?
  • Am I trying to win this one?  Am I doing all I can to make him or her lose so I can win?  Am I determined to hurt her?  If so, can I find ways both of us can come out ahead?


Step #2  Defuse the Other Person


  • Listen carefully to him or her.  Let the other person happen to you while holding your own ground.  (U&ME, Chapter 2).  Try to live fully into this metaphor.
  • Explicitly identify where the two of you agree.
  • Maintain your nonverbal cadence.  this means you should keep yourself from wildly rolling your eyes, gasping with incredulity, storming out of the room, making dramatic, "How can you believe that??" movements and gestures, and in other ways expressing off-the-charts self-righteous indignatiion.  I'm not saying you should hide your feelings, but just manage the ways they're expressed.


Step #3  Defuse the Situation


  • Move away from anyone who might be seen as an "audience."  Praise in public and do conflict in private.
  • Deal with any contextual problems like too much noise or awkward seating.  Sit next to rather than across from the other person.  Get both of you a cup of tea, coffee or water.


These steps won't guarantee that the conflict gets managed effectively, and when opposing opinions are expressed with intensity over high-stakes issues, they can go a long way toward making the process productive.

I offer 7 more suggestions for dealing with conflict effectively in Chapter 5 of U&ME.

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