Last month I wrote about the fear of conflict which afflicts many. I listed five different reasons why people avoid conflict. Just to recap, here are the five reasons for conflict-avoidance:
- Family-of-Origin. People often avoid conflict because they saw the results of conflict between their parents or their parents and others in the family and it was not pretty.
- Fear. Probably the most common reason people avoid conflict is fear. They are afraid of losing control of themselves and doing or saying something they’ll regret or they’re afraid of the other person losing control and emotionally or physically hurting them.
- Emotionality. Some people avoid conflict because it would require them to become emotional and they have trained themselves to keep their emotions in check at all times.
- Honesty. Many people avoid conflict because conflict will force them to become honest and have to face issues affecting the relationship.
- Immaturity. Some people simply haven’t matured to the point where they can handle conflict.
As Dr. Les Parrott says, conflict is the “price we pay for a deeper level of intimacy.” So if I want more than a surface-level, superficial relationship with my spouse, children, parents, or friends, I will have to handle conflict well. Remember, the problem isn’t the conflict. It’s how the conflict is handled that’s the issue. All relationships have conflict.
So how do we handle conflict positively and thereby reap the rewards of greater intimacy? Here are three proven tips for making conflict a positive growth experience:
1. Time-out. When the conflict begins to escalate and things become heated, don’t be afraid to take a time-out to calm down. Time-outs have the benefit of deescalating things and lowering the intensity of the conversation. The one calling for the time-out should also call the time-in. Time-outs can be for just a few minutes to take a break from an intense discussion that’s ramping up or for a longer period. I would not recommend going more than 24 hours without coming back and finishing the discussion.
2. Reflective Listening. Whether you call it reflective listening, paraphrasing, or speaker-listener technique, this proven method of communication works and is especially valuable when used in important or emotionally-charged discussions. Through use of paraphrasing, reflective listening communicates to the speaker than you are truly listening to what he’s saying. Rather than thinking about your answer, reflective listening focuses all your attention on the speaker’s message. That makes the speaker feel both heard and respected.
3. Empathy. When you empathize with someone you enter into their pain with them. You see the situation from their point of view. To respond to someone empathetically almost immediately defuses the conflict. Empathy might mean saying something like, “It sounds like you’ve had a really hard day. I don’t want to make it harder for you. What can we do to resolve this and move forward.”
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:18),