Have you ever been in a conflict with someone and in the course of the discussion, there is new information presented either by you or the other person that ideally would steer the discussion in a new direction towards resolution – only somehow that doesn’t happen?
Let’s say the conflict stems from a misunderstanding – as most conflicts do – and let’s say that you are earnestly trying to let your friend know that you weren’t late to meet him for the movie because you don’t respect his time or value his company – but that you were at work and your boss required you to stay a bit later and it was an emergency situation and you didn’t have time to call your friend to say you’d be late.
Let’s say that you manage to get these words out in a nice, calm respectful tone, that you truly mean every word you say, and that you truly want the conflict to be resolved as you really do value your friend and wish for the conflict to be understood and resolved for you both.
However, let’s say what happens next is unfortunately something that happens many times with some people in conflicts. Let’s say that your friend is so angry and so upset and so hurt that he somehow doesn’t absorb what you’ve said. It may seem that he has heard you, but he remains angry. Why? Wouldn’t he say, “Oh, well that makes perfect sense. I understand.” And he may not say it, but he may think, “I’m so glad I was mistaken about my incorrect assumption that my friend doesn’t value me or my time.” You would think he would feel relief, right?
Many times, that is how these kinds of misunderstandings end. However, some people get stuck in a feeling – very much like a record-player needle (remember those?) stuck in the groove of a record album (remember those also?).
Your friend may recall something you said earlier in the conflict that perhaps was not you at your best. You may have said “Why can’t you just believe me when I tell you I wasn’t disrespecting you? You know I have a demanding job – everything isn’t about you ya know! You can be so self-centered!”.
Even though you may have gotten yourself to a better place and have found a way to communicate more skillfully in this conflict, your friend may still be hurting from those comments. And you may still be hurting from your friend’s assumptions that you don’t value or respect him. When different sides in a conflict are still hurting, it often takes a conscious choice to pull ourselves up and out of that record groove so we do not get stuck in it.
So, you may have managed to consciously pull yourself up and out of that groove, but what if your friend hasn’t and after you make your calm and peacemaking statement, providing new information to him, instead of saying he understands and everything is okay now, he says, “But you said I think everything is about me! You said I’m self-centered! What kind of friend are you? Why do I even bother?”
There is so much that can be said about this kind of moment in a conflict. Some of it is about all those involved in a conflict needing to try to do their best to resolve it. But what does trying our best really mean?
We know we all have different conflict resolution styles and skills. We can start by making a commitment today – whether we currently have conflicts with others or not – to consciously choose to improve our conflict resolution skills.
We can read helpful books such as those by Marshall Rosenberg, PhD or others such as Getting to Yes or When Anger Scares You.
We can let those close to us and whom we trust know that we are making a conscious effort to improve our conflict resolution skills and ask that they be patient with us and kind to us as we do our best to make better choices during moments of conflict.
We can remind ourselves that conflict is inevitable among humans and that it can be an opportunity for positive communication, growth, sharing, and connection and it does not need to be unpleasant. We can remind ourselves that skillful conflict resolution is a skill that most of us were not taught as children and so we have a lifetime of unskillful methods of responding to conflict to UNLEARN and replace with new learning.
To some of us, this may sound daunting, but to some of us, this sounds like an exciting adventure. Think of it as learning a new language or a new game. Think of it as needing more practice than just remembering how to ride a bicycle, and as something that can get you alot farther than a bicycle! Think of it like learning to play a new instrument or working out and developing muscles that you rarely or never use!
Remind yourself that learning a new skill at any age keeps our brains healthy and more vibrant and keeps all of us healthier in every way!
This is only one benefit of learning new and healthier conflict resolution skills.
Another thing to consider is how REACTIVE we are. Our reactivity is often determined by how we were taught to respond to conflict. Or, sometimes, it is our attempt to speak up for ourselves when were not able or allowed to as children. In any case, being reactive to conflict situations is something to notice, consciously choose to stop doing, and practice stepping back and silently observing our feelings, thoughts, needs, and OPTIONS regarding how we can respond to something.
Let’s revisit our imaginary conflict with our friend, from earlier: Our friend hasn’t really absorbed the new information we’ve given him about why we were late. He is focused – and stuck – on something we said earlier that wasn’t helpful and that wasn’t us at our best.
Let’s say we choose to apologize for that. Our friend can hear and accept our apology, assuming we’ve said it and genuinely meant it. OR, our friend can continue to be stuck in the groove of the record – continue to be stuck in that feeling. He can repeat this and bring it up over and over again – even when you think the conflict is resolved. He may bring it up days, weeks, or even months later.
This gives us valuable information:
1. Our friend is still hurt.
2. We may need to apologize again.
3. Our friend may have other past hurts connected to this hurt that he needs to talk about.
4. Our friend may or may not want to talk about these hurts and may or may not even be conscious of these hurts.
5. Our friend needs help getting unstuck and may not realize he is stuck.
6. Our friend may get stuck regularly and may or may not realize this about himself.
7. Our friend may or may not see this as a problem or something he can or should try to change.
8. Our friend may or may not want help and may or may not want to explore or change this.
9. We can use this an opportunity to examine ourselves and see if we ever do this.
10. We can make a conscious effort to stop doing this, if in fact, we do. That means getting ourselves whatever help and support we may need.
11. We can try to talk to our friend about this as compassionately as possible.
12. We can be mindful to not try to change our friend. He will make his own choices. We can only offer our own experience of him to him and only if he wants to hear it.
We can ask our friend to make an appointment with us to talk about something important and delicate that involves strong feelings. This will prepare our friend for the kind of conversation we hope to have and our friend can let us know when he is able to do this.
We can let our friend know how much we love, respect, value, and enjoy him. We can say we want things to be wonderful between us. We can say that we, ourselves, have been working on our own responses to strong feelings and conflicts, and that we’ve noticed that we ourselves sometimes get stuck in a strong feeling, like a needle in the groove of a record – even though there have been apologies and new information that theoretically would change our emotional response. We can say that we’ve learned this means there is still hurt, and we understand it’s hard to move past hurt – especially strong hurt. We can observe that our friend still seems hurt and upset and we are hoping that in this conversation, we can let our friend know that we did not intend to hurt him and we wish we hadn’t.
Hopefully this will help our friend climb out of the groove of the record and get unstuck.
Sometimes, the first conversation about this may not work. Sometimes, more conversations and more time is needed.
But, it is worth a try. And, hopefully, after the hurt is addressed and attended to and resolved, your friend can make a conscious choice to begin to observe when he gets stuck in a groove, when he is reactive, and when he is so hurt that he has trouble absorbing what others in a conflict are saying. And, hopefully, your friend will be able to observe and identify his feelings, his thoughts, his needs, and then ask for his needs to be met.
Hopefully he will be able to process his feelings and thoughts and really ask himself before he speaks if he is seeing clearly, if he is seeing accurately, if he has all the info needed to judge the situation, if he is giving the other person the benefit of the doubt (or if he can or if he feels they deserve it), and if he is thinking and judging the situation with fairness and integrity – rather than just having a kneejerk reaction of “OUCH! That hurt me!” and then lashing out verbally and climbing into a record groove to stay there for a long time.
There is more to be said about how sometimes it feels safer for some people to climb into a record groove and remain angry and stuck – than it does to climb out, step back, observe thoughts and feelings, question them, and try new ways of resolving conflict. More on that in another post.
In the meantime, I highly recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s very thin yet excellent book, Getting Past the Pain Between Us, published by puddledancer press. See www.puddledancer.com for more information!Thanks,