3 Steps to Conflict Resolution
“Let go of your Ego's need to be right. When you're in the middle of an argument, ask yourself: Do I want to be right or be happy?”
Dr Wayne Dyer
I’ve recently had a client sitting across from me that very much struggled in her partnership. The decision on the table was wether to end the relationship or see if it was salvageable. Because the unhealthy relationship dynamic had been going on for so long, she was certain that the only way forward was to go their separate ways. Sitting across from me, her pain was palpable. She didn’t want to lose the relationship. She also didn’t know how to stay in it without it continuing to hurt.
What she was looking for, was permission to leave. Affirmation that the only thing she could do was to move out of their home. What she got from me instead was accountability. Most of us, when in conflict, go to our best friends, family, coworkers and therapists with our painful stories. We describe how the other has done us wrong, and we offer up our version of events. The people across from us, in their attempt to love and support us, then validate everything we’re saying. Rarely can we find a friend or confidant that can hold up a clear mirror to us that is not tainted by co-dependence and unresolved issues and conditioning. Decide if you truly want guidance and a way to change the dynamic or if you are looking to commiserate. There is nothing wrong with needing someone to validate your anger, sadness or disappointments. But if you do, don’t confuse it with asking for advice or a better way forward. There have been plenty of times that I have called up my best friend to say “I need five minutes to let my ugly out, without judgement or advice. Can I unload for a minute?” By stating clearly what I’m needing, my friend can choose if she wants to participate, and the rules of engagement are clear from the beginning.
With that in mind, here are three healthy steps to take the next time you’re in conflict.
1. Clean up your side of the street:
Always start by taking inventory of your own responsibility in any conflict. Where could you have acted differently, where are you projecting your anger, disappointments and sadness on another? In any healthy dynamic it takes both persons to take ownership and claim responsibility for their shortcomings and failures. Reflect on your own conditioning and how it’s impacting the relationship dynamic. Once you are crystal clear what your part in the conflict is, you won’t be rattled by another’s projections. You will then be able to respond with strength and calm “That is simply not my truth.” This is a sentence I teach all my clients in relationships. The intent of the statement is to acknowledge that you are hearing what the other person is saying, you are not making them wrong for what they are feeling, but you are acknowledging that for you, it is simply not your experience.
3. Learn to listen deeply:
This can be difficult. Especially when we are “right” fighters, because we engage in the discussion with the goal of making the other person see that they are “wrong” and we try to persuade them to see it our way. This dynamic is incredibly harmful in relationships because we end up listening to counter their argument rather than listen to understand. Instead, be present to their experience and their pain. Listen deeply and with an open heart. Look for the truth in their statement rather than for a way to proof them wrong. This has to come from a place of wanting to clean up the relationship and offer love to it, rather than wanting to be right.
4. Accept where they are:
This can be the most painful step. Once you have heard what they have said, you have cleaned up your side of the street, and you have listened with an open heart, you have a decision to make. The only rational decision ever is to accept that this is where the person is. Can you live with it? We can never make it a goal to change another’s point of view, because by nature that would make us “right” and them “wrong”. All we can do is accept that this is their experience and that given their conditioning, their internal landscape and history, this may be the best they are capable of. To expect more than another can freely and truly give is futile and cruel. That is the point at which you have a decision to make. Can you truly accept where they are? Can you allow them to be who they are? If the answer is no, then it is time to release the other person.
Here's s the good news: If you have followed the other steps above and created a safe place to be heard and validated, rarely does it lead to having to decide to walk away from a relationship. Our basic human need is to be heard and to know that our feelings and opinions matter. Once another feels heard and truly understood, the situation deescalates and compromises can be found.
After I helped my client work through the steps above, she went home and later reported that her partner and her had the best and most productive conversation of their relationship. Had I commiserated, or validated everything she had said under the guise of offering advice and support, she would have gone home and ended the relationship. Next time a friend or family member comes to you in need of advice, help them find a resolution rather than commiserating. It may change their life.