Magazine article Work & Family Life

A 5-Step Approach to Resolving Family Conflicts

Magazine article Work & Family Life

A 5-Step Approach to Resolving Family Conflicts

Article excerpt

Your husband walks through the front door at 10 pm and you expected him for dinner at 6. You realize he was on a deadline at work, but he never called. "I know what you're going to say," he says. "Don't jump down my throat."

If you can resist the urge to say what's on your mind-and what your husband "knows" you're going to say-you might try another approach to resolving this conflict. It's a five-step process that applies to many situations but differs, depending on the players-that is, whether they are children, spouses, colleagues or friends. Here's how it works to defuse anger within a marriage.

Step I Watch the play. Stand back (in your own mind) for a minute. Look at the scene that's unfolding as if it's a play and you are the audience. This will help you to put your anger aside, see the whole picture more objectively and restore your balance.

Step 2 Confirm. This is an easily learned skill for defusing other people's anger (and eventually your own) by confirming the validity of their points of view. You'll disarm your husband when you say that you don't know why he did what he did, but you're ready to really hear him-without judging.

Step 3 Get more information. Steer the situation toward understanding by asking open-ended questions. This allows the person to give you more than just a yes or no response. For example, rather than sayint: Couldn't you find one minute to call me! You know how I worry, you could ask instead: What kind of pressures were you under today? What happened to keep you from calling?

Step 4 Assert your own interests and needs. In the previous steps, you've started a conversation and listened to the other person. Now it's time to discuss the situation from your perspective: Let me tell you why it upset me when you didn't call to say you'd be late. First I imagined that you...

Step 5 Find common ground for a solution. At this stage, both persons have cooled down. Now you can make the transition to a problem-solving mode and start brainstorming. Identify issues of mutual concern and areas of common interest: Let's make a deal on how we'll handle this kind of thing in the future.

Conflict resolution is a skill

Conflict resolution is a learnable skill. It teaches us ways to turn anger into energy and greater intimacy. To practice it, you should understand these basic ideas:

* Conflict resolution requires words. The old saying "sticks and stones can break my bones..." is dead wrong. Words can hurt horribly. They can also heal. Conflict resolution is the art of using dialogue and listening skills to work out differences.

* Conflict resolution is rarely about "I win-you lose" or "I'm right-you're wrong." It's about acknowledgment of the other person and an appreciative recognition of your differences.

* Conflict resolution can't happen if you bury the conflict. If you pretend conflict's not there or try to smooth it over, it just makes the angry feelings inside you build up. Then, any little thing will trigger your hot buttons.

Defusing family conflicts

Have you talked to your sister since the Big Fight a year ago? What about your brotherin-law who never liked you? Family feuds, sibling rivalry and in-law pressures can be infuriating, no matter how old you are.

But you do have a choice. …

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