Relationships are really great. Whether they are romantic or platonic, finding someone you enjoy being around feels good. You begin to connect on different levels, create inside jokes, and learn that it’s ok to be just as weird in front of them as you are in front of your dog.
The “honeymoon” phase floats on by and then BAM! You guys find yourself in the midst of your first fight.
The first fight can be devastating. Things were going so right up until the fight which means now we struggle with standing up for our perspective or staying quiet and avoiding the fight altogether. At first glance, staying quiet seems like the best option. Why would we want to fight? Why would you want to lean into the conflict and risk messing up this relationship?
Fighting (in a positive way) shows you are still engaged in the relationship. It means you care enough about someone to find a way to hear their perspective and practice compromise and conflict transformation.
This particular idea of conflict transformation comes from Brené Brown’s book Braving the Wilderness. In chapter four, she interviews a Dr. Michelle Buck and presents this idea of leaning into disagreements in order to stay authentic and build vulnerable relationships.
Dr. Buck states:
“When we avoid certain conversations, and never fully learn how the other person feels about all of the issues, we sometimes end up making assumptions that not only perpetuate but deepen misunderstanding, and that can generate resentment” (2017, p.79-80).
Long story short, avoiding conflict in our relationships opens the door to mind-reading. I don’t know about you, but even with a psychology degree, mind-reading never really turns out well for me. I make assumptions and judgements of what I think the about the other person, leading to more tension.
The key isn’t to avoid conflict. The goal is to approach conflict with the idea of discovering what the other person’s opinion may be. Conflict can be productive if you stay curious about the intentions of the other person, rather than focusing on the idea they think differently than you. Approaching conflict through the lens of listening and understanding their perspective leads to a greater sense of respect and trust.
How do we do practice conflict transformation?
Check the person’s intentions.
Know why this topic means so much to you and be open to also learning why it means so much to the other person.
Stay away from discussing the past.
Bringing up the past only increases the tension and drives both parties away from each other. Learning how to focus on what is happening now helps turn the conversation into a more constructive idea of where you want the relationship to be in the future. This doesn’t mean you have to agree, but you can begin working towards a more agreeable future that both of you created together.
Try not to rush to get your opinion out first. Stay present and listen to what the other person is saying. Also, rather than forming a rebuttal to spit out when they take a breath, try asking them questions. If you don’t understand, respond with, “Tell me more” or “Help me understand why this is important to you.” Conflict transformation requires you to listen to understand instead of being heard.
Remember, we are designed to be in relationships with other people. Relationships can be fun, but the best ones take a lot of work. Conflict transformations is one adjustment you can make to ensure you are building strong, lasting relationships. As always, if you need a little more help navigating some tough spots in your life, Amy Wine Counseling Center is here to help. Call us at 832-421-8714 today!