Relationships Need A Conflict Resolution Protocol

One of my specializations is helping couples resolve conflict.  I have found that all deeply successful relationships have an effective conflict resolution protocol.  It may be formal or not, but both parties are happy with it and follow it as needed.  This and my other posts on this topic will help you develop your own protocol.  Doing so is one of the most loving things you can do for others.. as well as yourself!

Here is a pattern for loving friends and companions to follow to increase mutual understanding and reduce emotional injury.

In any long-term relationship, conflicts and disagreements will arise. Having a mutually agreed upon protocol to follow when this happens will reduce the distress from these disagreements. Being skillful in resolving conflict amicably will serve you well in any relationship – both personal and professional.

The research indicates that in order for us to be satisfied in our relationships, we need to have 5 times as much good stuff happening in the relationship as bad. Since conflict and disagreement is bound to arise from time to time, please learn to face and resolve these with as little damage tot he relationship as possible. Relationships where disagreements are discussed in an effective and mutually respectful way can go deeper. Relationships where conflicts are not faced will wither. Relationships where conflicts lead to mutual pain will tend to blow up.

The following is a suggested pattern for conflict resolution. Most people find this pattern effective and useful as it stands, but feel free to personalize it.

Let’s say person A has a conflict with person B…

1) Make An Appointment – Person A contracts for time.  I have an issue that I would like to discuss with you. It’s about how we are parenting the kids and I think it will take about 30 minutes to discuss. When would be a good time?” They settle on a time. We do this to reduce impulsive arguments by allowing both parties to be prepared. This prevents predictable disasters such as trying to have a difficult conversation after one or both people have had a couple drinks.

2) Mutual Respectful Listening – A explains her position in small bite sized chunks. B does reflective listening. A uses “I” statements to help B not become self-protective or upset. B works to just listen and validate A’s position. He asks, “Is that all? Is there anything else you would like to say about this? Am I getting the most important points?” Once he gets the OK from A, they switch roles. The target here is for A to feel heard and respected by B and vice versa. Each should understand and respect the other’s position and convey that clearly.

Note: Time outs: In discussing touchy issues, it is not unusual for either or both parties to become so upset that they are no longer able either to listen or talk respectfully. When this happens it is important to take a time out. The couple agrees beforehand how exactly to do this. “Hold on, I’m getting a little too defensive to have this conversation right now. Let’s take a breather for 10 minutes and I’ll walk around the block and then we can go into it some more.” The person who initiates the time out must also re-initiate the conversation so the whole topic doesn’t get swept under the rug. Sometimes people have difficulty being patient with their partner’s desire to separate and calm down. If your partner says “time out!” it is in your best interest to allow them to take the time to calm down, do not pursue them!

3) Brainstorming – A and B both brainstorm solutions looking for both zany and realistic ideas on how to create a win-win.

4) Negotiate – They choose a solution and make a plan of how to put it into action

5) Re-assess – They check back in on how the solution is working at some predetermined later date and fine tune if necessary.

Putting this conflict resolution pattern into practice requires a lot of different skills. It is not easy and will not come naturally. If you are going to become skilled at doing this with your partner and friends, that will happen only because you practice. In the process of practicing, you and your conflict partners will make mistakes. This will be difficult. But if you do not practice, you will continue using your habitual patterns of conflict resolution and, I’m assuming, these produce results that are already pretty darn difficult, otherwise you would not have read this!

So discuss this with your partner and friends and commit to practicing and building your skills. Use the full pattern with easy topics at first. Practice being a tape-recorder in your reflective listening. Take time outs before you need them. Practice the mechanics so that when the conflict is real and hot you have skills to fall back upon.

This is not a complicated pattern, but it does require practice and commitment to get good at. Getting good at it is one of the kindest things you can do for everyone else around you and it will boost your relational experience to a totally different level.

Read more about this in my other posts on this topic.  If you want help in developing these skills, contact me or call 541-821-6623!



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