Conflict Resolution for Family Members

Part 1: Mind set

  1. Before you even speak, try to adjust your mind set. What you are seeing as the goal, and the ways to achieve that goal, is very important.

  2. The goal is not to defeat the other person in a competition. Try to see yourself and the other person on the same team, not on opposing sides. The two (or more) of you are working together. If there is an opponent, it is “the problem” – the situation that threatens to make you mad at each other and to make your relationship worse. This is a “cooperative game” rather than a “competitive game.” You are working together to try to solve the problem in a way that meets the needs of both people and that leaves a sense of a good connection between you.

  3. The goal is not to “get your anger out.” It is a widely believed myth that it is bad for people to feel angry and not “let it out.” Many studies have shown that yelling, pounding on things, saying angry words, stamping the feet, breaking things, and so forth usually tend to make people feel more angry, not less.

  4. At the same time, the goal is not to sacrifice your own needs. If you have reasonable wishes and needs, you don’t just keep quiet about them so as to avoid conflict.

  5. The goal of the conversation is to speak about your needs and wishes, and listen to the other person’s needs and wishes, and talk and think about what to do, in a way that avoids, as much as possible, making the other person feel angry, threatened, insulted, scared, or offended.

  6. The two of you have won the game when you figure out an option to try, that has a chance of making both people happy, and the conversation has made the relationship better, not worse.

Part 2: Communication postponement when either person is angry

  1. When at least one person in the conversation is fairly angry at the other, it becomes unlikely that the goals above can be met. Usually when that’s the case, it’s a good idea for the two people to separate for a while, until both feel calm. You want to give your team the best possible chance at a victory over “the problem,” and that best chance comes when both people are calm.

  2. If you’re going to be effective at postponing communication, you have to plan it out ahead of time and even rehearse it. In the heat of the moment, one person often follows another who is trying to walk away. Or one person feels snubbed and insulted that the other is trying to walk away. It’s good to practice both postponing, and accepting the postponement. To practice postponing, you rehearse saying something like, “I need to spend a little time by myself before we talk about this more. Please excuse me.” To practice accepting the postponement, you rehearse accepting and not resisting the other person’s separation, even if the other person does it in a rude way such as stomping off and going into a room and slamming the door.

  3. A great number of bad consequences, including family violence, can be avoided if people will follow this rule: have a fairly reasonable and rational conversation about the problem, or go your separate ways for a while.

Part 3: Try to translate abstract descriptions into talk about concrete observations and behaviors and people’s wishes, feelings, and needs, and try to encourage the other person to do so.

  1. For example: Someone gets the urge to say, “You’re being a selfish slob!” But they translate this into: “When I see plates left around the house with food on them, I feel worried about mold and mice and insects. I want the house to be as healthy as possible.”

  2. For example: Someone hears someone else say, “Why can’t you just shut your fat mouth every once in a while.” The person tries to translate what the other has said: “I’m getting from that, that I went on talking for a lot longer than you wanted, and that you had something you wanted to say but couldn’t. Is that right?”

  3. For example: Someone gets the urge to say, “You’re acting like a wild animal! Quit it!” But they translate this into, “When you run around in this room, I feel worried that the lamp or the vase or something else is going to get broken and maybe that someone will get cut on the pieces.”

Part 3: Practice empathic reflections

  1. A “reflection” is a paraphrase of what you understand the other person to be communicating. You reflect in order to make sure you understood the other person correctly, and to let the other person know you have understood.

  2. If your sentence starts in one of the following ways, it’s probably a reflection:

So you’re saying ______.

If I understand you correctly, ______.

What I hear you saying is ________.

In other words, you’re feeling ______.

Let’s see if I understand: you ______.

It sounds like you are feeling _______.

  1. Even if the other person is using language that offends you, it’s possible to do empathic reflections in a way that prompts the other person to speak about their feelings, needs, and wishes. For example:

First person: You’re the most disrespectful person I’ve ever seen. In all my life.

Second person: What I hear you saying is that some things I’ve said or done have really made you feel hurt.

  1. Try to make your reflections seek understanding only, without embedding in them complaints and editorials and disapproval.

A reflection with an editorial:

So you feel like you should get paid to wash dishes, even though I’ve been washing dishes for years without your paying me a cent, huh!

A reflection without an editorial:

So you are thinking that doing chores would be more fun for you if there were some sort of concrete reward for it, huh!

A reflection with an editorial:

It sounds like you think I wake you up in the morning just purely to make you feel bad, like it’s fun for me to see you gripe.

A reflection without an editorial:

What I hear you saying is that when you hear my voice waking you up in the morning, it’s very unpleasant because you’re usually in a very sound sleep.

  1. Practice the “reflections exercise.” One person talks about anything they please. Each time they stop talking, the other person does a reflection. The talker lets the listener know whether the reflection was accurate or not. If it was, the talker goes on talking. If it was not accurate, the talker explains and the listener reflects again.

  2. In the reflections exercise and in real-life conversations, it’s important to stop talking frequently and let the other person have a chance to respond. Many conflict-resolution conversations turn into competitions over who gets “the floor” – who gets the chance to speak and have the other listen. If people are interrupting a lot, or if both are talking at the same time, if they are talking louder so as to talk over the other person, or if one person is going on for longer than a minute, then it’s good to think about turning “the floor” over to the other person often. It’s hard for you to actually be heard when the other person is just wanting you to stop talking so that they can talk.

Part 4: You’ll be better at conflict resolution if you can get good at just chatting with each other.

  1. By “just chatting,” I mean not trying to solve a problem between the two people, but just doing social conversation, the type of talk you do when you are enjoying hanging out with someone.

  2. When you do this, try to use as little as possible of CCCT and as much as possible of REFFF. CCCT = commands, criticisms, contradictions, and threats. REFFF= Reflections, telling about your own Experience, Follow-up questions, Facilitations, and positive Feedback.

  3. The word “facilitations” means utterances like these: “Uh huh. I see. Yes. Oh? Hmm. OK. Right.” Follow-up questions encourage the talker to say more about the same subject. For example, “Can you tell me more about that? Then what happened? What was that like for you?” Positive feedback gives an approving message to the other person. “That’s an interesting idea. Thanks for telling me about that. Good point. Congratulations for doing that.”

  4. Here are some examples of commands, criticisms, contradictions, and threats. “Get out of there. Leave that alone. Quit that.” (Those are commands.) “You’re being a brat. You’re not thinking about what you’re doing. You’re just lazy.” (criticisms) “No, it didn’t happen that way. You’re wrong about that. You didn’t do that, either.” (contradictions) “If you keep on, you’re going to pay a price. Do that one more time and see what happens to you. Just don’t push me, if you know what’s good for you.” (threats)

  5. Practice the “listening with four responses” exercise. As in the reflections exercise, one person is the talker and the other is the listener. The talker stops talking often, and when they do, the listener responds with a reflection, follow-up question, facilitation, or positive feedback. Then they switch roles.

Part 5: Consult the good doctor: Dr. L.W. Aap

  1. Dr. L.W. Aap is a mnemonic for things to do in conflict-resolution or joint decision conversations. D stands for Defining the problem, and doing it without bossing or blaming the other person. You are just telling what the situation is, and what your interests or wishes or needs are. Each person defines the problem from their own perspective.

  2. The R stands for reflection. You do a reflection after you hear the other person’s point of view, to make sure you understand. Both people should define at least once, and reflect at least once; it could be that it’s useful to talk in a more extended way with lots talk about the situation and what people’s needs and wishes and interests are.

  3. The L stands for listing options. Each person thinks of possible options for solutions to the problem. It’s good for each person to think of at least 2 options.

  4. The W stands for waiting until the listing is done, before evaluating the options. This is the opposite of what often happens, where one person poses an option and they spend the rest of the time arguing over whether that is a good idea or not.

  5. The A stands for advantages and disadvantages. They talk about the pros and cons of the options – not the bad aspects of the other person’s personality! They try to predict what the consequences would be for the options they are considering.

  6. The second A stands for agreeing on something. At the very least, they can hopefully agree to keep thinking about the problem and reconvene later on to keep thinking together about it.

  7. The P stands for politeness. They don’t raise their voices, interrupt, keep talking for a very long time, insult the other person. They avoid too much CCCT and tend more toward REFFF.

  8. In the conflict resolution role-play exercise, they take a hypothetical conflict that they are NOT experiencing in real life. They role play negotiating it, trying to do all 7 parts of Dr. L.W. Aap. The more times they do this, the more they build up their habit strength for dealing with real life situations like this.

  9. Some people say, “But people don’t talk like this in real life.” The point of Dr. L.W. Aap is not to represent how people usually talk. It’s to be a model for the sort of rational conflict-resolution that would make the world a lot better place IF people talked like that in real life.