Of course, conflict is part of life, but it doesn’t always have to turn into a big argument. We talk to two experts on conflict about how to make disagreements with anyone, from your work life to your home life, into a more peaceful, enlightening experience.
- Dana Caspersen, mediator, teacher and author of, Changing the Conversation: The 17 principles of conflict resolution
- Dr. Judith Wright, author, coach, corporate consultant and founder of the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential
17-02 Fighting Fair and Productively
Marty Peterson: The one thing that can ruin even the most romantic evening or productive business meeting is conflict. It happens all the time, even to the most committed spouses and long time business partners – long festering disagreements can break up a marriage or a company, but they don’t have to. Dana Caspersen is a conflict mediator and coach and an expert in conflict resolution, she’s also author of the book, “Changing the Conversation: The 17 Principles of Conflict Resolution.” She says conflict is the same across the board, no matter if it happens in the bedroom or the boardroom.
Dana Caspersen: Conflict can be a place of possibility because it can be a place where we find out what matters to people, depending on how we approach it, we can bring important topics to light, we can find way to create a grounds on which we can talk about them together and then come to the solutions that make sense. Because they have to do with what people care about on a more basic level, so in all of those conflicts – in personal work, in community, nations – essentially what happens is that peoples strategies come into conflict but underneath that are underlying needs and interests that essentially could be met in a lot of different ways.
Peterson: Learning productive ways to resolve conflicts is beneficial, though it can be uncomfortable at times – emotions can run high and this can be off-putting for individuals who don’t like confrontation. Caspersen says that if you tell someone at a conflict to quit being hysterical and they stifle their emotions, you’ll lose some valuable information that could help in the resolution.
Caspersen: The emotions themselves are part of the way that we think – they’re part of our intelligence. So we need to be able to let them do their work, which is to give us a signal that something else is important to us, we feel angry because we care about this – we feel frightened because this is important to us and to be able to acknowledge an emotion in a way that doesn’t either depress it or escalate it. So for example, in the difference between saying, “would you just calm down, you’re acting like a three-year-old” or saying, “it sounds like you’re furious about this, what’s most important to you?” So letting emotion help us get to what really matters in the situation.
Peterson: Dr. Judith Wright agrees – she’s an author, corporate consultant and founder of the Wright Graduate University for the Realization of Human Potential, where she also teaches. She says that in an intimate relationship it’s ok to be emotional and get things off your chest, but be careful of how you say things.
Dr. Wright: Emotions are part of fighting so your anger, your fear, your hurt, your sadness, your joy – all those feelings need to be shared and fighting is one of the ways those things come out. So having your emotions, as part of it is important, but also one of the things that can be really destructive isn’t so much what you say – if you say it with contempt or disgust, or disdain, that real dismissing way – that can cause a lot of damage or scar tissue in the relationships. So its more about, you know, “I’m hurt by this, I’m angry about that,” and having some venom isn’t so terrible if you can really keep somewhat responsible and if you’re not – clean it up pretty quickly.
Peterson: Listening carefully to the other person is also crucial. Caspersen says, that interrupting them to get your own point across shifts the focus of the meeting onto you and makes them feel like you don’t care about their opinion.
Caspersen: and one thing that is most important to people in conflict is to know that they’ve been heard. That you’re listening to them and that you’re hearing what they care about, whether or not you agree with it – and the other thing is that in conflicts people are often expressing themselves in ways that make it very difficult to hear them, to hear what’s important to them. So one of the basic practices of this books is to get used to asking yourself the questions, “what would this sound like if it was said without attack?” so translating what people are saying, temporarily ignoring the attack and really focusing our attention in what they care about, what the important information is, that’s going to help us move towards resolution.
Peterson: Often at work an at home and individual who is upset with the situation will bend the ears of coworkers and friends. Caspersen says this strategy is unproductive and doesn’t get to the root of the problem or it’s resolution.
Caspersen: Figure out what the real problem is and as opposed to ranting about it to other people or approaching it in a passive aggressive way or complaining about the person to others, that you go to the person you bring up the real issue at hand and have the direct conversation that’s going to have the most effect. Because a lot of times, conflicts become more escalate when we drag other people into them that are actually not involved in the conflict itself.
Peterson: Wright says that in her own life she has discussed conflicts with others but not to complain to them or try to get them on her side.
Wright: Often times you’re just trying to get somebody to back you up and it can cause this kind of drama triangle where you feel ganged up on or whatever. At the same time, sometimes if you can get another person who has some perspective to help you both see things that can be helpful which is why counseling or coaching can be helpful. But what I did in the beginning of our relationship and I would get so upset with my husband and I didn’t know how to express it I didn’t want to just go gossip about him with my girlfriends and get them to agree that he was a jerk or something. I really wanted to resolve I think, so I kind of declared that you know what, if I ever talked to somebody I either have to talk to somebody who also loves my husband or really has perspective or a professional or something. I would sometimes call his mother or sister, not to just complain about him, but to really try to get a perspective and I found that had a lot more integrity. I didn’t know what I was doing necessarily in the relationship and I needed someone to help get me perspective and that was helpful.
Peterson: Both Caspersen and Wright say that sometimes it’s best to take a time-out, but that doesn’t mean walking away from the problem all together.
Caspersen: Certainly there’s times when it’s not a great moment to try to talk about it, if someone is too upset, and how we approach that can either make it worse or better. So if we say, “I don’t want to talk to you about this, you’re just going to freak out again” then that’s likely to escalate, that casts them as being incapable of dialogue but if instead if we would say, “ok looks like you’re pretty upset about this, I’m having a hard time talking about this right now. Can we make an arrangement to talk about this in a couple of hours?” something like that, so we acknowledge the emotions, we acknowledge the person is capable of doing it at some point and ask – “would this be better if we talked about this later?”
Wright: I had to do this in our relationship with my husband – he was much more verbal than I and he would ask me a lot of questions and felt like it was just coming at me – and I would get kind of frozen and freeze and feel like defensive and we have an arranged signal that indicates that it’s time for a time-out. I would take a time-out and what that did, it helped me understand “wait a minute, whats going on with me? Whats at the heart of this?” If I could get to the heart of the fight and get to my deeper yearning and what this symbolized for me – then I could go back and share more vulnerably with him. Those are some of our most productive fight, because they were more honesty, they were true about what was really going on. And that time out wasn’t just to punish my husband or push him away – it was for me to get clear on what I was really feeling and what was going on so I could share more truthfully and vulnerably with him.
Peterson: Speaking of honesty, Wright says that truthfulness is one of the most important elements for both sides to maintain in a conflict.
Wright: Express and agree with the truth always, tell the truth if you’re in a conflict and your partner or someone says something that’s true, even if it bugs you, admit it – say “good point, you’re right” or even begrudgingly give them the point, “you’re right and I don’t want to give them that satisfaction but I have to admit that’s true what you just said.” Getting to the truth can really start to unlock things we’re all so hungry to be affirmed in a fight, so we keep denying the reality of it, it’s kind of crazy making.
Peterson: Since conflict is a normal part of life, is it a good idea to create a time and place to regularly get things out in the open? To discuss what’s bugging you? Wright says it’s a great idea for confronting those nagging problems head on.
Wright: A couple that we coach they all do weekly dates and sometimes it’s a dinner and movie, but often times they also have a weekly meeting, sometimes its part of the date sometimes its Saturday breakfast, however they decide but they go through several things. Like ok, what worked for me this week and what else did I love about how you were with me and what didn’t I like and what’s bugging me? And they clear the air and they also make a plan for the next week of how they want to be together, what their freedom the next week, and their work or their career or the family, or what they can help each other with and they use these as empowering kind of dates together. But always important, “what been bugging me that I haven’t brought up and I haven’t had time to bring up.” So you can really stay current so these things don’t build and they don’t become bigger issues, it’s a really good idea.
Peterson: What if a conflict isn’t resolved to your satisfaction? Do you ever just give in? Caspersen says that if a conflict is not resolved to your satisfaction or at all, let it go for a while.
Caspersen: Depends on how important it is to you. So if it’s something that you really care about and the solution that has been reached is not an effective one then I would go back and say, “Ok. We talked about this and I’m finding that they solution we came up with doesn’t really work for me and here’s the reason – this is what I care about, this is what the solutions works in relation to that, would you be willing to talk again about if we can find a better way to deal with this situation.”
Peterson: You can read up on Dr. Judith Wright, her work on her websites, JudithWright.com and Wrightliving.com. For a workbook on how resolve conflicts productively at home or at work, pick up Dana Caspersens book, “Changing the Conversation” at stores and online. She also invites listeners to her website at DanaCaspersen.com. You can find more information about all of our guests by visiting our site at viewpointsonline.net. You can follow us on Twitter @viewpointsradio. Our show is written and produced by Evan Rook and Pat Reuter. Our executive producer is Reed Pence. Our production director is Sean Waldron. I’m Marty Peterson.
Sign up to receive email updates
Enter your name and email address below and I’ll send you periodic updates about the podcast.