Conflict Resolution Series: Helpful Words that Reduce Conflict
Conflict doesn’t come out of nowhere - usually. Generally, conflict comes from something boiling under the surface for a while. The filling of a bucket of negativity until it overflows and rains down conflict. Many things can cause conflict but one of the most common are ways of talking that cause defensive attitudes and the breakdown of communication.
Have you heard or used these phrases before?
"Why can’t you ever…"
Global statements like this put people on the defense and make insinuations that are damning and difficult to deflect. Being told that you always do XXX feels judgmental and usually isn’t a true statement. Perhaps it’s true that a person in conflict may exhibit some truly poor judgement or bad behavior, but no person is all bad, all the time.
You can avoid conflict by making better choices with your words and making them less about other’s behavior. Try replacing global statements with phrases like these:
“It makes me feel scared when you…”
“I want to discuss how I feel when XXX happens…”
“Are you open to talking about XXX right now…”
By shifting the focus from how the other person is viewed as wrong to putting the focus on yourself, you can create an open topic for discussion. Let’s look at an example.
John is routinely late picking Jane up from work. They share a car and every time John is late, Jane feels undervalued and she doesn’t get home in time to do the important things on her schedule.
“You are always late picking me up! You are so rude and inconsiderate. Because of you, I have to sit out in the cold where something bad could happen to me. Do you want me to get hurt just because you don’t care enough to be on time?”
This reaction to John’s behavior will likely put him on the defense and trigger shame and guilt. He may react with anger and defense or shut down completely - neither of which is a good reaction.
“John, are you open to talking about our commute together? When you are late, I get scared that something may have happened to you, and I worry that I might be in danger waiting here in the dark. I am confident that you don’t want either of us to get hurt, so I want to come up with a plan for the times when you are going to be late, so I feel safe and I don’t start to resent you for not being on time. What do you think is a good solution?”
This response is a rational set of questions that alerts the other person that there is conflict but encourages the person to be a part of the solution and makes space for them to be truly sorry for their behavior. Working under the assumption that John is a conscientious person, he will likely want to resolve the conflict quickly and fairly.
Changing certain words and phrases can change the way conflict resolves. It can even avoid conflict altogether. Be intentional about what you say, and you can expect better outcomes when issues need to be resolved.
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