It’s his job to take out the garbage, but once again, you find yourself dragging it out to the curb … She invited her sister’s entire family over for dinner on Saturday night despite your agreement to spend the weekend alone …
What do you do? While some people are perfectly comfortable asserting themselves — potentially inviting conflict — others would prefer to avoid confrontation at any cost.
In addition to welcoming or avoiding conflict, there are several ways to approach conflict. A life coach can help you identify your predominant conflict style, and work with you to find more effective ways to manage conflict.
What’s the Point of Conflict, Really?
Often, the most difficult conflicts occur within the context of our closest personal relationships, perhaps because that’s where we make ourselves the most vulnerable.
While fighting and conflict are not necessarily the same thing, they can stir similar emotions, particularly fear, anger and even sadness in some people. However, as our life coaches point out, conflict can serve a positive role in our relationships. When handled correctly, conflicts can foster growth and deeper understanding in the context of our relationships.
“Conflict can be seen as a gift of energy, in which neither side loses and a new dance is created,” says Thomas Crum, author of The Magic of Conflict. Crum asserts that conflict can be a springboard from which to learn and grow.
5 Life Coach Strategies to Effectively Approach Conflict
By reframing conflict as an opportunity, the way we approach conflict takes on even greater importance.
The following strategies can help you handle conflict more effectively:
- Time it right — Whether it’s a sensitive conversation with your significant other, a child or your boss, choosing the appropriate time is pivotal key to its success. We often think about whether the time is right for the other person, but don’t forget about looking inward. Be the voice of your own life coach: Is this the best time for you to have this conversation? Are you in the right frame of mind, able to focus, well-rested and at your optimal energy level?
- Start softly — The way you begin an argument has a significant impact on its outcome — and on your relationship, according to relationship expert John Gottman, Ph.D. His research found that the startup —defined as how a partner raises an issue in the first three minutes of the conversation — can be positively influenced by: complaining without blame, using “I” statements, describing without judgment, and being polite and appreciative.
- Compromise — Kids are often taught that compromising is a fair and easy way to resolve a conflict. As adults, compromise can also help keep the peace, especially in certain situations. However, because compromise involves each person giving up a little to arrive at an agreeable solution, it is only a partial “win” for both sides. Accordingly, life coaches remind that compromise can often be a short-term solution, giving rise to future conflicts.
- Snuff out small conflicts quickly — One of the biggest risks of avoiding conflict is accumulating resentment. Take the opportunity to “practice” conflict-negotiating skills on low-stakes issues. By addressing minor problems as they crop up, you mitigate the threat of having any underlying negativity creep into conflicts of a more significant nature.
- Disagree agreeably — The “Triple A” formula for disagreeing agreeably, coined by psychologist Susan Heitler, Ph.D., involves agreeing, augmenting and adding to the other person’s point. In order to agree, you have to actively listen to what the other person is saying, tuning in to focus on an aspect where you can potentially see eye to eye. The augmenting phase involves digesting that point, letting the other person know that you’ve heard and understood it, perhaps by offering an example. Adding to it (using words like “and” or “at the same time” — not “but”) allows you to position your view without detracting from theirs.
What other strategies have you found effective in approaching conflict in your close relationships?