The world can be an uncomfortable place. There's lots to learn and lots to overcome and sometimes no matter what we do, getting along together can be difficult. Given that each of us can easily recall those moments when we felt bullied or misunderstood, most of us wish we could handle conflict better than we do.
We've all had those moments when we stood silent, only to wish we had thought of the brilliant comeback that leaps to mind too late.
Wouldn't it be great if we had constructive conflict resolution skills that strengthened relationships rather than tearing relationships apart? I believe we can and more importantly, I believe we can easily teach these basic skills to our kids. The next generations can learn to respond, rather than react and actively listen rather than merely prepare a rebuttal and even unite against the issue rather than against each other.
From schoolyard bullies to difficult roommates or colleagues right on up to strained family relationships, there are skills we can use to come together, find common ground and build a shared future upon it.
Teaching these skills means teaching our kids to become Peace Leaders and the basic skill set includes 10 indispensible tools.
1. Breathe. Did you know the simple act of taking a deep breath allows your heart rate to slow and your mind to become more alert? Conflict resolution is the art of reconciling the hearts and minds of opposing factions. Even if the conflict is within ourselves, a deep breath gives you time to think before that first response and that makes all the difference.
2. Reframe. This one is more heart than head related. People long to feel understood, even simply heard. When we reframe their words back to them we send 2 messages, 1) I want to be sure I understand you and 2) I'm really listening; you matter too me.
3. Empathize. Empathizing doesn't mean agreeing, it means acknowledging that you can understand how you might feel in their position.
4. Identify issues and higher goals. The issue may be clear but not the desired outcome. Identify the higher goals. It may start out as a conflict over laundry but the higher goals may be about feeling respected and appreciated. The laundry issue needs to be resolved, that's for the brain, but the feelings around the issue need to be addressed too otherwise the laundry is just the first in a long series of conflicts yet to come.
5. Buy in. Confirm that everyone actually wants the issue resolved. Believe it or not, some people are so invested in the conflict or in their role as warrior or victim that they may genuinely believe resolution is not possible. Until every party believes the conflict can and should be resolved, it will be stuck.
6. Refine your target. What is the desired outcome of each party? Regarding the issue of laundry, for example, what is on the wish list of each person? To send it out? To take turns folding? To put it away within a couple of days? Whatever the wish is, let everyone advocate uninterrupted.
7. Patch. Before anything can be stitched together there must be an overlap. However small the overlap may be, finding it allows you to begin to patch together a solution.
8. Pitch. Patching and pitching go hand in hand. The more common ground you can find the more solutions emerge that might work. Pitching to each other is a way to develop the skills of working together against the problem, not against each other.
9. Put On. Try out at least two of the better ideas pitched. See how they fit for everyone by putting yourself in the role of each party. Sending the laundry out might work beautifully for some but the one footing the bill might be less enthused. Taking turns at the laundry might be fine except for the person already shouldering the bulk of all the other household chores. By trying a solution from each party's perspective you will choose more wisely and you will build your relationships because everyone will feel not only heard but also, understood and cared for.
10. Move on. When the conflict is resolved you can either 1) embrace the solution knowing you may need to tweak it one day but for the most part it is settled. Or 2) focus on the conflict instead of the successful resolution and undo all the work you have done to build the relationship for the future.
Peace leader skills become easier to use the more developed they become. Practice matters. It may seem like a big investment in time and effort but allowing conflict to fester and spread will undoubtedly cost much more.