Part of being human is having needs. The reality we face is that everyone has needs and we can expect to occasionally arrive at some kind of discord here and there when sometimes needs of others are not in line with ours.
In healthy relationships, conflict - when used effectively - can bring people closer together, when they work together to increase their compassion and understanding for one another.
Being afraid or even terrified of conflict, may lead to passive and/or aggressive behaviour. When we are afraid of conflict or try to dominate others, we may learn to rely on negative behaviour to get our needs met. Why?
• We may be afraid that assertive expression of needs may have negative outcomes.
• We are afraid that overt disagreement will lead to being hurt or abandoned.
• We do not want to say something directly due to fear about how the other person may react.
• We may be afraid that we will not get our needs met.
This fear may begin in childhood. The conflict we experience and observe as children may have involved open expressions of anger, emotional abuse, manipulation, domination, unfairness or physical violence. We may learn that conflict means someone will get hurt or someone will treat us unfairly. We may have learned to avoid conflict at all cost.
Conflict can be productive tools
For healthy conflict, compassion and empathetic communication is required for the person who behaves in a passive-aggressive way, as well as for everyone else. We can resolve our disputes through understanding and compassion.
It is very helpful to calm down first. Take time to really get calm. Regulate emotional activation, such as anger by mindfully examining it, and gain control of any emotions before proceeding with a discussion. Mindfulness breathing exercises are very useful for overcoming reactivity in the long term and in the short term as well.
Each party describes how they view the challenge at hand from their own point of view. Make sure that both parties do hear correctly what the other has to say. Avoid mind-reading and assumptions, by mindfully requesting clarity in areas where more clarity is needed.
Take time to come up with a number of ideas and options for approaching and overcoming the challenge. Make a list of all possible solutions - include even the ones we don't like, and ones the other person might not like, and ones that sound crazy. Simply let all ideas and options roll out.
Pros and cons.
Go through the list and discuss their pros and cons. Talk about what you like about the ideas and what you don't like. In the discussion add any new ideas that may come up.
Choose the solution that works best for both parties. Have the intention that everyone wins, or at least no one loses. The win-win solution is the best one, although it not always possible to reach in every conflict.
Execute the solution.
Put the chosen idea into practice and see what happens. Be sure to give it time; change may require an adjustment period.
Evaluate the solution.
Have another discussion about how it is going. Does it work? What, if anything, might we do better going forward?
Golden rules of compassionate conflict resolution
These dos and don'ts can guide us during conflict resolution. Take note of these before starting a difficult discussion:
Do: Focus on the present or future.
Don't: Rehash history.
Do: Use a respectful tone.
Don't: Raise your voice or use insulting words or facial expressions.
Do: Respect the other person's feelings and ideas.
Don't: Criticize, attack, blame, or humiliate.
Do: Take responsibility for your own actions and emotions.
Don't: Tell your partner what to do and how to feel.
Do: Spend the time necessary to reach a resolution.
Don't: Become aggressive or threaten the other person.
Do: Focus on solving the problem.
Don't: Focus on being right.