I was raised by a mom that's fluent in ancient Greek and taught logic classes on the side.
From her I learned that conflict resolution was all about getting to the bottom of The Truth, often reasoning yourselves to death along the way. Emotions were entirely unhelpful to conflict resolution. They were dismissed as immature and illogical.
It's all about being reasonable, you see. It's all about identifying who's right, about what exact things, and by how much. Who's in the wrong, and do they know they were wrong? Will they admit it? Will they apologize for it? Does it ring sincere?
Then I got out in the world. And I started to find authentic ways of living that resonated with me. I noticed that the people I meshed well with handled conflict entirely differently.
I liked it.
You see, I there's a perspective that says it's not actually about who's right or who's wrong. "Right" and "wrong" are temporarily suspended.
Rather, it's about feeling heard.
It's about listening.
It's about supporting each other.
It's about collaborating on solutions.
Luckily, I learned how to do this before I met my now-fiance. When conflict arises, our first instinct is to make sure each others' needs are being met. "What would help?" is asked frequently. We use phrases like "When you said ______ I felt ____ because _______."
We validate each others' emotions as legitimate, even if we disagree about the matter that causing them. For example:
"It makes sense to me why you're mad. I probably would be in your shoes too. But the thing you're mad about is actually something I had no control over. That makes me feel helpless and at a loss for solutions. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better right now?"
This style of navigating conflict is not uncommon in the circles I now run in. Every emotion is valid. Every boundary is to be respected. If someone needs space, you give it right away, and don't take it personally--they're just processing however they need to process. If you feel you're so badly affected that you cannot work through the conflict in a civil manner, then it's up to you to communicate what you need and protect others from yourself as necessary.
And y'know, I say "civil", but I think some folks around here have a different definition than what I'm referring to.
If you cannot see the hurting human on the other side of you, if you cannot keep kindness and empathy and support close to the front of your mind throughout the conflict, then you are not ready to hash it out. You are not (yet) a safe person to do so with.***
Nowadays when I see how the rest of the world tends to do conflict, it shocks me. It's as if rule #1 is tear the other person down. Rip their argument to shreds. Show 'em that you're right. Make sure everyone knows it.
Let me use a metaphor. Have you heard about how a drowning person will, in a panic, climb on top of anything within reach? Including their rescuer? It's a very dangerous situation. Instinct takes over. Both people can drown each other in their primal desperation to survive.
Unhealthy conflict looks like that to me. And usually it's not that anyone intentionally wants to drown each other. It just feels like you're sinking, so you grab for whatever you can to pull yourself up and get another breath of air. In the moment, you don't realize what you're doing to the other person. You don't realize their frantic movements are because they can't breathe with you on top of them. You just know if you're winning the argument, you're able to get some air and the world feels like it might start to be okay again.
Until the other person begins gaining ground, that is.
It's so miserable, guys.
There's a better way.
I hope you find it.
Conflict Resolution Musings
Blog entry posted by Dainty, Sep 7, 2017.
About the Author
Dainty became ill as a teenager and spent 7 years mostly bedridden from ME/CFS, life-threatening MCS reactions, extreme food allergies/sensitivities, cognitive impairment, fibromyalgia, episodes of temporary paralysis and various unexplained emergencies. The past 5 years she has experienced profound improvement from various treatment approaches. With homelessness and PTSD presenting as significant obstacles, she continues to pursue healing full time and find incorrigible opportunities to enjoy life.