Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fighting Fair: The 10 Commandments of Conflict Resolution

After years of living cheek to jowel in apartments, duplexes and on-campus housing, it was a relief to finally be in our own home, but not for the obvious reasons. Yes, we enjoyed the room of a home. Yes, it was nice to have a garage. Yes, it was great to have a place for the dog to roam. But the best reason to live in our new home: we didn't have to share walls with anyone.

Ranting, raving, screaming, throwing insults, not to mention the occasional right hook, at their loved ones, the one thing my husband and I learned when sharing walls is that no one has conflict resolution skills anymore. Being that we were financially strapped at the time and not enjoying the best accomodations might have accounted for part of it. Lack of education coupled with financial stress inflicts pressures that can result in vented frustration, but doesn't have to be necessarily.

The thing is, the same conflict resolution problems exist in our relatively well-educated, supposedly Christian, less-financially-stressed client base. So what's the deal?

I think there are a few changes in our society that contibute to the problem and I'll briefly name them and then go on to the solution. First, with women working outside the home too, everyone is looking for a soft place to land after a long day, but it is not happening. Women come home and work more--taking care of roughly 75% of the home responsibilities, too. She is not interested in molly-coddling the hubby. The hubby, in turn, isn't interested in long conversations--he never really was anyway--while he's taking care of the 25% (which is 100% more than his father had to do, thank you very much) of the household stuff. He wants to veg or play ball or unwind in front of the tube. Second, with divorce an option, one that nearly 50% of people take now, the threat is invoked with regularity in relationships where conflict-resolution is non-existant. The threat becomes the reality all too often. It's an option now and people use it.

That is a superficial, glossed over look at two potential causes of conflict problems at home. There are many more making family dynamics even more complex. This doesn't explain the same conflict resolution problems at work.

Some people would say that fewer people are expected to do more, that the hours worked are inhuman and that tension now constantly runs high. Bosses have no loyalty, some say, so the workplace has degenerated into a harsh, unfriendly place where no one but a hard-ass gets heard or respected.

Maybe. That these complexities exist at work and at home is NO EXCUSE. Marriage is a state where two people become one, for better or worse, and when violence--verbal or otherwise--flies both marriage partners are damaged. Both are damaged. Our co-workers are a more constant presence in our lives than our extended families. In fact, they often surrogate for our extended families. Civility is a minimum condition for work-place satisfaction and that begins with the individual.

So here are the 10 Commandments of Conflict Resolution:

  1. Thou shalt not fight in front of people not involved with the fight. Never fight in front of the children. Never fight in front of subordinates. Never fight in front of people who matter to you--and that is everyone. You harm those around you, and yourself, when you fight publicly.
  2. Thou shalt not call names. Ever. It demeans and strays from the purpose of the disagreement which is to resolve a conflict acceptably to both parties. A variant on this theme in our modern times is to scream, "You're just crazy! You need HELP! You're nuts!" This of course, puts the opposite party in a defensive position. If they yell and scream back, it proves the point. If they say nothing, they are being bullied by someone labelling them, albeit in a more subtle way than outright namecalling. When a person's mental health is called into question just because they are critical of a person's eminance, authority, etc. that is manipulative and just as nasty as calling a name.
  3. Thou shalt remember to stick to the topic. A disagreement is not a time to air every irritating thing the other person has done since you met them. The topic should be broached and stayed on specifically. No meandering. No digging up the past. In the moment.
  4. Thou shalt not blab to everyone else about the conflict. Gossiping makes you look weak. Don't try to get a buy in from fifty people before you express your discontent. Keep your yapper shut and go directly to the person.
  5. Remember that you may not always be right and consider, for a moment, the possibility that you are wrong that your days may be long in reality land. Who is perfect? Sure you are, buddy. When entering a conflict, remember that you might not have all the facts, that you might be mistaken about the facts you have, that you may be told the wrong facts.
  6. Thou shalt not scream at the drop of a hat. The volume of your voice is inversely proportional to the importance of your message. He who loses it first, loses. Period. Now, for all you screaming meemie wives out there: listen up! Men get tapped out word wise about half-way through the day and make it the rest by not listening. They are very good at it. If you want your beef to have a smidgen of a chance to penetrate the thick skull, don't yell. Speak calmly, collectedly and straight-forwardly.
  7. Thou shalt not use the silent treatment. The silent-treatment is communication. Because men are sometimes less adept at language facility they often stonewall. I don't want to hear it. I'll ignore her/him/this problem and it will go away. This action, too, is weak and cowardly and manipulative. Rather than deal with a problem head-on, many people will duck and ignore. This is a wonderful tact to take if you enjoy people hating your guts. It is also effective, if you want to up the ante. Want the problem to get drawn out and complicated? Ignore it.
  8. Thou shalt take a breather and come back to the problem looking for a solution. Once the stress hormones start cascading, watch out! Escalation station. It is okay to take a fifteen to twenty minute break with the intention to come back and resolve it. This gives the brain and body time to cool down. Don't stomp away. Don't slam doors. Just calmly say, "I'm going to my room/taking a shower/going for a walk/reading the Bible/meditating" whatever "for a few minutes to get myself together, I'd like to finish this discussion in 20 minutes."
  9. Thou shalt leave the drama behind. Throwing things, hitting walls, head waggling, stupid comments like "talk to the hand", tearing off wedding rings, etc. makes for good TV and for big problems at work and at home. Doing these things makes you look like an ASS. Don't do it. This requires self-control. This requires growing up. This requires thinking about someone else in the midst of your indignation. Yup, it does. The drama queens and kings get frustrated because "no seems to be listening" or "no one takes me seriously". You're right they aren't and don't. When "being heard" is more important than resolution you end up looking like an impotent lump of protoplasm. Also, hitting a person is not just weak and lame, it is unacceptable always. That goes for you women, too. Women initiate physical contact the majority of the time in fights. Don't do it. He's bigger and stronger. And men, hitting a woman is beneath contempt. Don't take the bait. Get out before you hurt someone.
  10. Remember what you really want. Do you get in fights desiring to be right? Do you provoke your coworker, friend or spouse just to let off steam? Do you wish to stick it to someone? Or do you want to solve something? Those who must be right, enjoy disagreement for the sake of it or practice vengence as a life habit end up being alone. A lot. These are the people who are insufferable to be around and end up dying alone. You think I'm joking?
When it comes to human interaction conflict is inevitable. Conflagration is not. Life is one big negotiation. It is an art. It is easy to fight. Look at the Middle East. It is challenging to resolve. But it isn't impossible. And the payoffs are great.

Fight, if you must, but fight fair.

1 comment:

vj said...

Melissa, I really like this post here.