I haven’t worked in a corporate environment for a very long time, and even when I did, it was a TV station… which I’m not sure entirely counts. So, with that, I have thought I might spend a second writing about the place where conflict management has meant the most to me: my marriage.
Growing up, we started conflict for sport. In my wife’s family, conflict was a dirty word (to be fair, so was “stupid”, but you get the idea). They often approached problems from the view that since contention is ungodly, that any amount of it shouldn’t be in your home. Sounds good on paper, but it’s not always the most effective way to get to the root of issues and resolve problems. As you can imagine, this was a source of trouble early in our marriage. In fact, it almost ended it during that first year.
Some lessons I learned from that experience and over the years are:
1 – Sugar coating sounds like a great idea, and even tastes great for a minute, but after you eat too much, you’ll get a stomachache.
When issues arise, pretending that they don’t exist or diminishing their severity serves no one. The trick for us was to come up with a system that helped to depersonalize, and therefore reduce the emotionality of, the problems/challenges as they came up. When one of us was having an issue, we would raise our hand and say, “I have something I need to say out loud, it’s not directed at you, I just need to be heard on this”. Somehow, that physical motion and re-framing it in a way that made it non-personal, seemed to really help. We were able to discuss things much more candidly.
2 – Events in life are neutral. They are only good or bad based on the value YOU place on them.
The things that happen in life are just that: things. These events are not inherently good or bad; we place that judgment on them afterward based on whether or not we liked the outcome. With this in mind, it’s possible to recognize that a positive attribution can be placed just as easily as a negative one can. When my wife and I both took that into consideration, we gave ourselves our individual power back to feel in control of our situation. This went a long way to being able to manage conflict without an overspill of emotion.
3 – Conflict is most often a conflict of styles of communication not a conflict of personalities. It boils down to a lack of understanding of the other person.
It’s true of Northern transplants to our fair city (and vice versa) and it’s true of a young man raised on the East Coast in a loud, conflict laden environment vs. a Western young lady that never heard anyone yell before she got married… Once we acknowledged we were on the same team (our marriage team), and that we were just going about getting to our goal (happy marriage) in different ways, it was easier to talk through things.
4 – The last one is from “The Cowboy’s Guide To Life”, and that is: Never miss a good chance to shut up.
Sometimes, it’s not about you. It’s not about being right. It’s about the other person being heard and feeling understood. As humans, we are wildly underserved in the compliment department. One of the best compliments you can pay a person is to look them in the eye and actually pay attention to what they are saying.
Conflict will come. We all know that. But it doesn’t have to be a problem. It’s not inherently bad. All things grow through conflict. Embrace it. Grow.