When someone close to you crosses the line, perhaps someone you like, love or respect says something you don’t like; when they make obsessive comments, overlook an important issue or make a hurtful joke, what do you do?
You probably don’t want this to end your relationship, yet you don’t want a repetition of the same act. You have to do something. You may be scared and anxious about how it will be received but you know you must speak up. So, what do you do?
This is always difficult when we have a close relationship with the person or individuals because we fear we’d get emotional or that the other person(s) will become emotional as a result of what is said. Most people feel anxious when they know a difficult conversation is coming up, and some do not know how to handle such conversations. Certain types of conflict lead to physical attacks and you would want to avoid that.
So, how do you resolve disputes without getting physical? How do you explain yourself without becoming aggressive? How do you address that act without alienating the very person whose behavior you will like correct?
Dino Niel shared a tip from her conflict resolution training, she writes: “I was taught an important concept. Picture a table. Most people in conflict see themselves on one side of the table. They see the other person on the opposite side and the conflict between them. But what if, instead, you could make it so that both people were on the same side of the table, with the conflict on the opposite side of the table? And what if you could remove the table? Then, rather than antagonists, the players become partners, working collaboratively to solve a mutually agreed upon issue.”
If you attack the person in the process of going after the problem, you lose your partner. You should learn to see a person as separate from their behaviour. This doesn’t mean that you stop holding people accountable for their actions. On the contrary, all people (including you and I) must be accountable for what we say and do. But it can be done in a sensitive way, making conflict resolution a collaborative process of teaching and learning rather than judging and condemning. That’s how you turn a potential loss into a win-win. So just how do you get the person who just hurt your feelings to join you on the same side of the table?
Here are a few methods I have learnt from professionals that will help you resolve conflicts:
Get a grip
Analyse the situation
Think through what the comment or behavior means to you. Why you were offended, hurt, or otherwise bothered? How did it make you feel? What impact did it have? Why are you uncomfortable? What pattern does it perpetuate? What harm does it have the potential to do? How can its energy best be neutralized?
Let it out
Ask to speak with whoever said or did it, in private, if possible. No matter how uncomfortable, these are great teachable moments. Often, these things result more from ignorance than malice. Take the time to explain why you were offended. If you attack, the person will be too busy defending themselves to listen or learn. So, remember to talk about the behavior and not the person—how it affected you, what you fear it has the potential to create, what you would like to see come out of this.
Check in with them and ask for their interpretation of what they are hearing you say. Let them clarify what they may have been thinking. And make sure to ask for what you need.
Let it go
Holding on to your feelings about the incident will only keep you bitter inside. I am not suggesting that you forget about it or be unaffected. I am suggesting that after you have addressed it, you take away any power that it has over your mood. You also want to allow the other person the space to grow from this and not hold them hostage to your anger. You don’t have to forgive and forget, but you may want to find a sense of calm so you can keep it moving. Remember that the key is to teach without condemning. You can hold someone accountable in a way that is sensitive to their humanity and call them out in a way that is compassionate.
Now, there are a very low number of people who will continue the behavior even after they’ve been compassionately called out. In those instances, you may have to decide whether to stay and how to walk away if necessary. But most people tend to respond well to being made mindful of their impact in a way that honors their heart. We all want to learn and grow and be better tomorrow than we were today, so let’s find ways to facilitate that in one another.
In order to be your best self in your relationships – whether it’s with a friend, family member, or partner – you need to feel your best, inside and out.