Often in life we find that we follow the same path when it comes to disagreements and whatever path each of us chooses it usually doesn’t feel good.
In our personal lives our disagreements with our significant others can end up with each of us hurling accusations and reminders of past misdemeanours.
Our workplace relationships may see us kowtow to more outspoken colleagues or have angry outbursts towards our bosses; neither of which makes us feel good about our jobs and potentially could see us losing them.
All these scenarios can be caused by a lack of confidence, over-sensitivity and sheer ignorance about how best to communicate in order to create more successful relationships.
So, here are 2 ways that will improve your communication with others and avoid conflict:
Verbal attack…ask for information
When you are being verbally attacked adopt an attitude of asking for more information. So rather than hurl insults back ask for more information so that the ‘attacker’ feels listened to and understood. This does not mean capitulating to their viewpoint, it means learning more about what is upsetting them. Most volatile ‘attackers’ will calm down once they have vented their grievances and they will do this more quickly if you do not react.
To avoid the ‘silent treatment’, give more information. So rather than trying to get them to talk by asking more and more questions or goading them with insults, make them feel cared for by telling them how much we have invested in our relationship with them. Again, this is not about betraying your own interests, it is about diffusing the conflict and reaching a place of understanding and compromise.
These strategies are not easy but they are effective. It will feel uncomfortable trying to understand someone who is verbally attacking you and you will wonder why on earth you are bothering to tell someone who won’t speak to you how much you care. However, if you can spend the time to do this and push through how counter-intuitive it feels, you will avoid being perceived as unreasonable and argumentative yourself and improve your chances of a successful outcome.
Here are examples of how these strategies can work:
- Say your other-half is incandescent over their perceived view that you have spent too much money. This will of course give you all sorts of feelings about your autonomy in the relationship making you feel resentful and controlled.
While your other-half is hurling insults at you avoid doing the same at all costs. Take a deep breath and just tell them that you understand how they feel. Say something like, ‘I can see you are upset and would like to understand more’.
It is likely that they will still be in attack mode and might say something like ‘You understand?!!!…Well if you understand so much why have you spent all that ******* money?’ To which you won’t retaliate with ‘Because I ******* can!’ but instead will say something like ‘If I had realised it would upset you so much I would have been more careful’.
They might reply with ‘You! Careful! That’s a joke!’
And you can say ‘I know how it looks, but I really do want to understand how to avoid this in future’.
None of this means that you are going to conform to anything that you feel is unreasonable but it will enable your verbal attacker to gradually come down from the ceiling and be more reasonable themselves. Of course, if we have behaved irresponsibly then we can end the conflict with an apology and an assurance we will be more careful in future.
But where our other-half has over-reacted our wanting to know more and understand their viewpoint will have reduced their anger enough to have a more productive discussion. We will also have avoided not talking to each other for several hours or even days depending on how long these things last for each of us.
In addition we will be learning how to avoid what for some of us can be hugely distressing events in our lives. If you dislike confrontation but you live with a person who is volatile you may find yourself thrown in to conflict on a regular basis. Not reacting in the same way may well save your relationship by reducing the stress for you and saving your other-half from stomping out for good!
- Say your other-half withdraws when s/he is unhappy with you, making it clear you are in the dog-house but refusing talk about it. Now, sometimes it is good to just let them have some space and sort out their thoughts themselves but if you find that difficult you can take the approach of giving more information.
So hopefully your other-half is still in the same room as you but their body-language is tense and closed to you. Rather than bombard them with accusations and recriminations in order to goad them into speaking, help them to feel appreciated. Say something like ‘I can see this is really hurting you and I want you to know how much I want to sort it out’.
The silence will still be there but words like that will have filtered through. You can follow up with something like ‘I’ve been thinking about what I said/did that upset you and I realise how it will appear to you but it really wasn’t my intention to make you feel bad’.
Hopefully their body-language at least will now be softening and you can continue with something like ‘I want to make things better so I’ll make us some tea/coffee and if you want to talk I will listen’.
Notice that I have not suggested you say sorry for anything. You should only do that if you have done something to say sorry for. This approach is about making the ‘aggrieved’ person feel cared for in order to enable them to stop protecting themselves and engage in productive discussion.
Both of these strategies take practice and a level of self-confidence to carry-off. Don’t be hard on yourself if your first attempts do not work out as well as you intended. Just bear these strategies in mind whenever you find yourself in a conflict situation (Verbal Attack – ask for information, Silence – give information) and you will get better and better at creating successful outcomes.
Most people are not great at dealing with conflict in their personal and work relationships so use these strategies and place yourself ahead of the rest. It could just be the thing you need to add that dash of happiness to your significant relationships and greater success in the workplace!