Dealing with Conflict: The Game Changer Question to Ask Yourself

Conflict is unfortunately bound to happen in this life. You don’t have to scroll down far on your feed to find evidence of conflict- in relationships, in schools, in politics–it is guaranteed to be there. However, there is one question that you can ask yourself that can be a total game changer where conflict is concerned. The number one question to ask yourself is this: “How do you want this to end?”

How do you want this to end? What’s your objective? Keeping the end in mind is more important than you might realize. Most people don’t think about the ending but are instead focused on their feelings and often get into an unfortunate cycle and communication myth where the louder or harsher they complain, the more the other person will know how upset they are by the complaint. So volume will tell you how strong your feelings are. The louder you yell, the more valid your feelings are. This unfortunately is a false belief and often leads to additional volume in response and more conflict, and hurt feelings. Speaking louder or more harshly doesn’t mean that you are more likely to be listened to or that your message will be heard. In fact, research confirms that it is the opposite.

Psychological Researcher John Gottman, PhD, who over the past 40 years has become one of the most influential researchers in the industry, actually found that 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. He found that when one partner started the discussion with a harsh start up (being negative accusatory or using contempt) the discussion is basically doomed to fail. On the other hand, when one partner begins the discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone. For example: (Harsh Start-Up) “You never have time for me!” compared to (Softened Start-up) “I have been missing you lately, and I’m getting a little lonely.” So, remember that your approach matters and that the way you begin a conversation has a direct tie to how it will end. So, if you want the conflict or conversation to end well, how your convey your message matters and you need to begin your discussions with a softened start up approach.

A softened start up does not mean that your feelings are not strong. In fact, expressing your feelings, even strong, powerful feelings is absolutely fine and necessary. The truth is that you can feel big emotions but do need to match the volume in your voice or tone to convey them. You can feel angry or hurt and not be loud. And how you convey your message matters. It all comes down to understanding the difference between Criticism vs. Complaint. And there is a very big difference between the two. When you are being critical, that means you are attacking the personality or character of a person. It often begins with “You always…” or “You never…” or “Why are you so…” or “What’s wrong with you?” For example, “What’s wrong with you? How could you leave without feeding the dog? You never feed him.” Complaint on the other hand is specific to a behavior you want to change. For example, “The dog was out of food again. Can you make sure he is fed before you leave next time?” Make sure that you are addressing complaints rather than just being critical and have an end in mind. What do you want to see changed? What behavior do you want to see? Don’t underestimate how powerful a tone of voice can be as you have a conversation about the behavior you want to see changed. Keep the end in mind and you will be more effective at conveying your feelings and messages.

The truth is that you do not have control over how someone else will react or that by conveying your feelings that they will change their point of view but you do have a say in how things will end by the way in which you choose to discuss your emotions. So, remember, when you are handling conflict, make sure you ask yourself, “How do you want this to end?” It can be a total game changer and lead to better communication, better handled conflict and happier endings.

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Truth or Myth? Conflict in Marriage is Unhealthy.

Myth! According to leading relationship expert, John Gottman, PhD: Happily married couples may have a lot of conflict. It is the positive sentiments overriding the negative ones. They are quicker at repairs. It’s not the appearance of conflict, but rather how it’s managed that predicts the success or failure of a relationship.

Looking for tips to improve dealing with and resolving conflict? Check out these articles:

7 Proven Tips To Handle Conflict

If there are no ups and downs in your life, it means you are dead. The truth is that no matter what, all relationships–whether they are with our family, coworkers, friends or spouses–will and should experience conflict simply as a fact of life. Resolving conflict is a necessary skill set for everyone. Here are some tips to help you handle conflict in your life.

Tip #1: Realize that Conflict is Normal and Necessary. In fact, Dr. John Gottman, PhD, who has been researching relationships for over 40 years, has found that it is not the presence of conflict that is damaging but the way in which conflict is handled. He found that the “Magic Ratio”: is 5-1. That means that for every negative interaction, happy couples will have 5 positive ones.

Tip #2: Take a Deep Breath. When a person’s heart rate reaches 100 beats per minute, they are unable to hear anything the other person says. By simply just breathing you allow necessary oxygen to slow down the amygdala which in turn “jump starts’ the prefrontal cortex or the side of your brain that comes up with the plans and problem solving and allow you to make more rational decisions.

Tip #3: Face each other when talking. Researchers found that simply maintaining eye contact made the biggest impact from changing a negative interaction to a positive one. Nonverbal behavior is the primary mode in which emotion is communicated. Facial expression, eye gaze, tone of voice, bodily motion, and the timing of responses are fundamental to emotional messages.

Tip #4: Mentally Recite Positive Attributes. All of us have a natural tendency to overemphasize the negative and underappreciate the positive. It is far easier to be critical than positive so amidst conflict, it can be helpful to remember positive attributes, characteristics or experiences that can balance and counter the at times overwhelming flood of negative emotions. For instance, upon finding a spouse’s is late, you can remember that they work hard to provide, are really good at playing games with the kids, picking shows to binge watch on Netflix or another experience that has made you smile in the past. Being grateful for the positive allows you to address conflict in a more realistic approach to the issue at hand instead of making mountains out of mole hills.

Tip #5: Use a Softened Start Up Approach. Gottman’s research has found that 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. When one person begins the discussion with a harsh startup- being negative, accusatory or using contempt–the discussion is basically doomed to fail. On the other hand, when a person begins a discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone. For Example:

Harsh Start Up :”You never have time for me!”

Softened Start Up: “I have been missing you lately.”

Tip #6: Limit criticizing and condemning language. What is it that you are hoping to achieve or what is it that you are wanting to communicate? Messages are often lost when language is critical or condemning: (“You always, or you never…”). Set ground rules in your relationship such as no name calling, no threatening divorce etc. and be cognizant of the the language that you are using. Language can be like the lighter fluid thrown on a smoldering fire- causing the fire to escalate out of control. Remember the goal is to face the challenge and work to put an end to the conflict rather than escalate it. Just because a thought goes through your head doesn’t mean it needs to come out of your mouth.

Tip #7: First seek to understand, then be understood. This golden rule of communication is key in being able to resolve conflict and promote change. Simply listening is a powerful tool in resolving conflict. “People start to heal the moment that they feel heard.” (Cheryl Richardson). Ask yourself, what is it that they want me to understand? When you get into a conflict, try and see the conflict as if you were a fly on the ceiling. Often, underneath the discussion of the conflict, someone is asking for more emotional connection. See if you can understand where they are coming from. “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”(Thomas S. Monson).

While conflict is a normal part of life, these tips can help you navigate and successfully handle the challenges you face together and strengthen your relationships. Practically speaking, share these tips with the ones you love and the ones you have the most conflict with 😉 and watch your ability to handle conflict improve!