Posts tagged ‘Conflict’

Questioning Conflict?

Do you ever avoid a sticky subject because you know it will erupt either into a heated argument or major meltdown? Oh, haven’t we all been there! Especially with that paranoid Aunt Thelma who finds an insult behind every compliment you’ve ever given her!

So then, are you wondering what you should do? Well, let me begin with . . .

What NOT to do first:

  1. Don’t come at them “guns blazing” (tone down any anger)
  2. Don’t let your anger, pride or fear close your ears (listen non-judgmentally)
  3. Don’t try to convince them of your point
  4. Don’t point out how wrong they are
  5. Don’t bring up examples of all their past failures
  6. Don’t overwhelm them with too many details or demands

Now, the real question . . .

What should you do?

  1. Ask questions

Is it really that simple? Well, yes and no.

Your questions need to:

  1. Focus on understanding more of the other person’s feelings and point of view
  2. Avoid sounding accusatory (For example, avoid questions that start with “why”)
  3. Involve open-ended responses vs. questions that require a simple “yes” or “no”
  4. Simply reflect what you’ve heard the other person say (it’s amazing how often this little tweak can change the course of a conflict)

I can’t promise you that if you use questions, you will avoid a conflict. But I do promise that if you use questions with a respectful attitude in times of conflict, it will deescalate the anger and frustration, as well as, increase the level of understanding. And that’s a benefit that no one can argue with!


How to Find Your Way Out of a Conflict

A while back my husband, Gary, and I were discussing something very important. At one point, Gary said something that made me feel like he disagreed with my viewpoint. Ordinarily this wouldn’t have bothered me very much. But because this issue was such a raw issue—one that carried a lot of “baggage”—our discussion immediately escalated into an argument.  For me, it felt like I was emotionally flooding—drowning in the intensity and alienation of it all.

Since our emotions were so strong and peaked at such a rapid rate, it startled me. Thankfully God used that intensity to grab my attention, and I immediately tried to gain some perspective.

  • I asked myself, Why am I feeling this so strongly?
  • I asked myself, Why is Gary not seeing my point?
  • I asked myself, How does this discrepancy look from his perspective?

As I considered my answers to those questions, I realized almost immediately that seeing things from his perspective was crucial and key to my understanding of where he was coming from. Quickly, my feelings soon followed suit, calming down and transforming into empathy.

So I told him that I could see his perspective, and from his perspective I could understand how he would feel the way he did. Once I said those words, it was like turning a key in a locked door. Immediately, our communication opened up and we were able to discuss the matter with patience and greater understanding.

Very often when any of us are in a moment of conflict with someone, we lose perspective. We get lost in the jumble of emotions and words. I think that all that I did to bring clarity to my situation was play the game of, “Where’s Waldo?” or in my case, “Where’s Gary?” In other words, I needed to inject myself into the issue from Gary’s point of view.

When I’ve played the actual game, “Where’s Waldo,” I’ve often felt a bit overwhelmed by the confusion of it all. It’s really very hard to find that goofy little guy! You have to spend a good amount of time scanning over every tiny image and overlapping detail. But when you finally find him, you feel exhilarated! You feel amazed at your accomplishment. My hope is that you feel that same exhilaration when you find your “Waldo,” whoever that might be!


Opposing Perceptions

My husband and I took a two-day trip down to the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois this past week. On one of those two days, we did some hiking. We wandered deep down into the forest on some trails.

It took probably less than five minutes before we began to feel the heavy weight of thick humidity in the center of that forest, since it had rained earlier that morning. Even though the temperature that day was only in the upper 80’s, in the middle of that forest it felt much, much hotter.

When we emerged from the forest we saw a man who had been biking loading his bike on the back of his car. My husband said, “Sure is humid today!” The man replied back, “Well, it’s better than it could be.”

I thought about that man’s response as we walked back to our car drenched in sweat. He was in the same park, in the same location in that park, at the same time as we were in the park, yet he had a different perspective about the day.

Then I thought about what he had experienced compared to us. He had just been on a bike ride through the park, probably feeling the cool breeze blowing against his face and body (nature’s air conditioning!) the entire time. Yet, we had emerged from the same park as if emerging from a sauna—soaked with sweat and burning hot from the oppressive, sticky heat.

Here’s my point:

So often we think that our perception is the only right opinion, but the truth may be:

  1. We both have valid perceptions and opinions that are vastly different.
  2. We think we are right when, in reality, we are completely wrong.

In our case, we were option number one. But very often I’m fighting for something that is my opinion, but very wrong. I’m not saying all of this to ask you to second-guess yourself, but rather to recognize your limitations. We all need to train ourselves to recognize that our perceptions are not always true or the only reality. The only absolute truth I know of is God and His Word, everyone else has cracks and flaws in their viewpoint.

If you are currently struggling in a relationship, check to see if this may be at least a part of your problem. If it is, remember that you are not alone. We all have limited points of view.

“One of the primary indicators of a character problem is a person’s resistance to questioning his perceptions about his situation or relationships.”  —Cloud and Townsend, It’s Not My Fault


In Times of Conflict – How to Meet in the Middle

It’s not easy to meet in the middle. I’ve observed this from the many couples who’ve met with me in my counseling office. But most of all, I’ve experienced it in my own life as I’ve wrestled with my pride.  That’s just it—pride distorts our thinking. It makes us think we are better and, for lack of a better word, “righter” than we really are.

So here’s my prescription for meeting in the middle . . .

Ingredient #1:

Make your goal: listening to understand –

Not talking to convince your partner of your point!

  • This means you ask your partner what he or she feels is the problem, then refrain from adding your point of view.
  • Next, ask at least two clarification questions to gain greater understanding about the context of your problem, your partner’s feelings, and what your partner perceives is your role. (You might feel that by this point you understand enough to give your partner your perspective, but I would urge you to wait just a bit longer.)
  • Now rephrase what you thought your partner said and ask, “Did I get that right?”
  • If you did, then you can ask to share your thoughts on the problem. But if you didn’t, continue to ask questions and rephrase until you both feel that you understand what your partner is trying to say.

Ingredient #2:

Open yourself to see where you may have failed or not understood.

This is where the external communication turns to the internal dialogue. You need to take that critical eye that you’ve used to zero in on your partner’s flaws, and turn it back on yourself! Prayer is necessary at this point, because God illuminates the inner deceptions that we cannot see on our own (Psalm 139:1-4 and 23-24, Jeremiah 17:9-10).

Ingredient #3:

Admit your misconceptions and mistakes as you apologize.

If you take this leap of faith and expose your mistakes and failures (and we all make mistakes!), then you will feel as if a huge weight has been lifted.  Not only that, but the closeness you’ll achieve with your partner will be greater than you ever imagined. Do it consistently, and a deep respect and love will grow between you and your partner, repairing years of damage. Trust me, I’ve seen it happen—not just in my client’s marriages—but also in my own!

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, . . ” James 1:19 (NIV)


Marriage Mistake #4 – Fought Fire with Fire

For years, my husband and I went ‘round and ‘round when it came to conflict. He would do something that would yank my chain, and then all of a sudden he’d notice I was being extremely quiet. So he’d ask, “Is there something wrong, Beth?” I’d say, “No, I’m fine.” He would then go into some long discourse about how I needed to be open and honest with him, that I shouldn’t sweep things under the rug, and that that’s how marriages are undermined, blah, blah, blah.

At some point, I decided to try it his way and I actually told him what was wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t think hearing the truth was the liberating experience my husband had imagined! Of course, I have to confess—I didn’t mince words. I thought, well, he did say he wants to know! So I let him know in no uncertain terms! And sadly, he didn’t like it!

At that point, instead of our conflict being side-tracked by a “game of cat and mouse,” it became a struggle of two wills—fighting fire with fire. I swung like a pendulum from one side, being passive, to the other side, being aggressive when it came to conflict.

As I’ve said in my last post regarding my marriage mistakes, conflict can only be resolved when two parties find balance and meet in the middle and not on the fringes.  In my next post, I will discuss how to find that middle ground in a conflict, so stay tuned!


Marriage Mistake #3 – Avoided Conflict

I grew up in a family that didn’t really know how to resolve conflicts. My parents played opposite positions in times of conflict, but neither position was healthy. They were living examples of the extremes in communication. My mother would aggressively confront my dad regarding a problem and my dad would passively run the other way.

In marriage, we often tend to follow the examples of our parents.  And so that’s what I ended up doing, as well. In the early years of my relationship with my husband, I adopted my father’s approach.

The conversations between my husband and I would go something like this: he would notice that I was being unusually quiet and sullen.

He would then say, “Is something wrong?”

I would say, “No, I’m fine.” (Often said in a curt way)

He would then say, “Something’s wrong! Tell me the truth, Beth!”

I would say, “No, really, I’m fine!(Still not convincing him)

At that point, he usually pulled out all the stops to literally drag me out of my place of hiding. But unfortunately, this approach didn’t work.  As you can imagine, it only made matters worse!

I must admit that we both made a marriage mistake when it came to conflict resolution.  I withdrew from him in steely, cold silence, which felt very much like abandonment or at least harsh rejection. And he advanced forward, pursuing me with such voracity that it seemed he turned from simply desiring openness to an all out attack.

As I mentioned before, we were operating at the conflict resolution extremes. Actually, there really isn’t “resolution” at the extremes. Everyone must find the middle ground when trying to resolve conflict.

I will go into more detail about how to resolve conflicts in a later post.  Before I go there, I want to share one more marriage mistake in days to come that sets the stage for discussing conflict resolution.  So, stay tuned! But until that time, please let me know, . .

Do you relate to this problem?

Are you still struggling to find that middle ground?

What fears or hesitations get in the way of dealing directly with conflict?