If you want to be in relationships, you have to learn how to do conflict. One of my mentors, Dan Allender, says it well: “All good communication leads to conflict.” Most of us believe that good communication will lead to consensus, not conflict.
The word “communicate” comes from the Latin word communicatus. This word has two parts: Communi (to inform, impart, or share.” and Catus (which means “care”). The heart of the word (and act) communication is to give care.
Some experts estimate that over 70% of communication is non-verbal. This means that it’s nearly impossible to not communicate. We may not be communicating well, but we’re always communicating. Even if we’ve left the presence of a relationship, we are still communicating something in our leaving.
Conflict is the result of good “transmitting” (communication) of differing messages. The word “conflict” comes from the Latin word confligere which means “to strike together.” Notice this doesn’t say “to strike against each other.” The reason a lot of people, myself included, are afraid of conflict is because it usually feels like a “strike against” not a “strike together.” Unfortunately, avoiding conflict is only going to make it stronger the next time we face it.
Good communication that leads to conflict and then reconciliation is the foundation of a strong relationships. Communication that leads to unresolved conflict after unresolved conflict is what weakens relationships. This idea applies to all relationships: friends, spouse, family, work, professional, doctor, etc.
If you want better relationships, you have to become better at striking together, not against. Start with how you communicate. Instead of communicating to receive something, try communicating to give something of care to someone you love. That might be the conflict that turns things around.
Our perspectives matter in life, especially in relationships. Usually we see what we want to see, what we are looking for. But, we don’t have complete control over what we see. There are 3 things that shape our perspective:
1. My Stance (what I am conscious of, what is my viewpoint). What is it that you’re looking for, or not looking for? Sometimes I will have a couple stand at opposite ends of my office to look out the windows on either side of the building. Their backs are towards each other. They have very different objects to look at and tell the other about.
2. My DNA (what I’m predisposed towards). Remember the dress? Is it black/blue or white/gold? Turns out, your DNA controls what colors you see. Not everything that we see is our choice to see.
3. My Story (what I am unconscious of). We need others to help us see what we’re looking for, because we’re unable to see all parts of ourselves. Sometimes we are driven or motivated by what we cannot see.
Fights occur when we think that only one person’s perspective can be right. The reality is, both perspectives matter (and contain truth!). Trying to fight for who is right gets really messy.
Four Questions to Guide in a Fight:
When possible take the time with the person you’re in conflict with to talk about these questions. If you do, you will gain important understanding about one another. Growth happens as a result of increased trust and constructive honesty.
1. What happened? (data)
There are three sides to every story: Your side, my side, and the truth. Spend time in talking about all 3 sides.
2. What feelings came up? (emotions)
Anger is almost always a secondary emotion or a catch-all bucket of other feelings. Unpack that bag. Bravely risk being honest.
3. What did I do about it? (actions)
We usually try to get in control when we’re in conflict. Our actions/reactions dictate if we’re more focused on being right, or if we’re willing to be in the process of repair. Process can be scary because it’s open ended.
4. What do I need help with?
Knowing you can’t fix or resolve everything is normal for all relationships. We all need help outside ourselves. Recognizing there is a God, (and it’s not me or you — acknowledging I’m human), I am not all powerful or all knowing, speaking the words I need help is a sign of health and hope for your relationship.
Stages of a Fight:
There is a direct correlation to the severity of a fight in regards to two factors.
1. How often does the offense reoccur.
If your conflicts are happening about the same issue over and over again, chances are the fights are going to be more difficult to overcome. The overwhelming majority of conflict in relationships is perpetual. It’s way more important to process the perpetual conflict together as a team than it is to find a solution or a fix to the problem.
2. How much damage is done in the escalation stage?
We all have a choice in how we’re going to respond to an offense (or in how our partner responds to an offense). Limit the damage (yelling, name calling, contempt, stone walling, etc) and the repairs will be far easier.
Lastly. Most fights become worse because of a 2nd offense. Our natural reaction to pain usually creates another offense. We hurt the other person (with words, yelling, etc) to show how badly we hurt. The challenge then becomes what offense do we focus on first?