A few weeks ago I began writing in this email and blog on the topic of conflict resolution, indicating that those who are willing to face and resolve conflict are “Peace-Makers;” whereas those who avoid it and side-step the difficulty of working through the conflict could be categorized as “peace-keepers” - because they would rather keep the virtual “peace” (which is in contrast to actually resolving the underlying issues that created the conflict).
I also outlined and defined three types of conflict, namely conflicts of emotion, conflicts of ideas, and conflicts of values. This week we will briefly explore conflicts of emotion and a few strategies to initiate a path toward resolution.
A conflict of emotion occurs when two (or more) people have different feelings about a topic of importance to them. The key word here is obvious: feelings. We have all heard the saying, “Feelings are neither right nor wrong; they are just feelings.” Yep. That’s helpful. Not.
What does help is to deploy some of the central keys to resolution with conflicts of emotion: listening, validation, and acceptance:
Listen: It is crucial that when emotions are running high, that the emotional person must believe they have been and are being heard. Ask questions: (i.e. “Tell me what you are feeling”), don’t interrupt when they are talking, ask probing questions about causes, timeframes when feelings began, or when feelings reoccur…questions, slow-paced questions, listen, more questions…communicate a desire to truly understand.
Validate: Repeat back to the person what you are hearing…”Do I understand you to mean this…,” or “This is what I am hearing…” or “I understand that you feel…” Communicate and validate that you are hearing what they are saying about how they feel. We do not need to agree (or disagree). We simply must affirm that we truly are hearing them and thereby validating that their feelings are real.
Accept: At this point, we have not affirmed or disagreed with their content, we have communicated that we understand. Therefore we can move to a place of expressing that we accept them as a person who feels the way they do.
The rest is somewhat straight-forward. Repeat the above steps with the other party involved. Then, when things are cooled down (by this process) we can take the step of bringing the parties together and walk them through the same process with each other. This is a process that must be lead – carefully, calmly, and deliberately.
Depending on the nature and intensity of the situation, this may well take more than one session. But the key to resolution is the same: Patiently lead those involved to a place where they listen, validate, and accept each other - and can do so in light of whatever differences may exist between them.