If you’re anything like me, the words “conflict resolution” strike fear into your very soul. Growing up, we didn’t so much talk about our problems as bury our emotions deep inside a well never to be seen or heard from again.
Unfortunately, I’m also one of those people who can hold a serious grudge (if it wasn’t so depressing, it’d be a real talent), and paired with repressing all negative emotion… well, let’s just say it’s not the healthiest way to live.
Enter my decision to learn how to argue, or *professor voice* conduct a successful round of conflict resolution. Obviously, I can’t be left to my own devices in this field, so I consulted my (very wise) sister-in-law, Amy, who has actually used conflict resolution in her real life… and lived to tell about it. Here’s the deal:
- Pick your battles
Conflict resolution isn’t about griping over every single thing that has ever had the audacity to disrupt your universe — you’ll drive yourself (and everyone else) crazy. Use this method on things that stick with you — arguments that you’re still stewing over four days later, fights that make you cry and scream into your pillow, sarcastic jibes that are cutting you up three weeks in.
Ask yourself ‘is this worth it?’ If the answer to that is no, then anonymously forgive them and move forward.
It’s also important to recognize where the other person or people involved are in their lives. If your friend’s father just had a heart attack, it’s SO NOT the time to bring up that biting comment she said that really hurt you. She’s not in a place to hear that. Part of being a good friend — and a good maestro of conflict resolution — is acknowledging that.
Ask yourself “is this worth it?” If the answer to that is no, as Amy says, “anonymously forgive them and move forward.”
- Get it all out on paper
Grab your spiral-bound and a sturdy biro (a keyboard works too) and expel everything you’re feeling into the universe. Amy calls this “knowing thyself.” The point is to understand why something bothered you — why the situation felt wrong or off and why you reacted the way you did. It allows you to process through what you’re thinking and feeling on your own terms and timeline.
- Talk to a third party you trust
Find someone who is not involved in the situation and (ideally) doesn’t know the other party and give them the whole story… no editing. Make sure it’s someone that will call you on your B.S. and not just tell you what you want to hear. It’s important to bounce the situation off of someone, because it may alleviate the issue just to talk through it all. Hearing the words out loud may make you go all “ugh, I guess that wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought” and then you can laugh the whole thing off like a damn boss.
It’s important to bounce the situation off of someone, because it may alleviate the issue just to talk through it all.
If that’s not the case, it’s still important to talk through what happened before approaching the actual person (or people) involved in the conflict. It will help you feel more secure, centered, and calm.
- Initiate contact with the person (or people) involved in the conflict
Amy advises this is best done by text or email — keep it short and sweet and don’t bare your soul, or else you’ll end up in a text war and that is never good. However, it’s important to give the other person a head’s up (try simply, “hey, can we meetup to talk?”) so you don’t blindside them at another social event by going all “YOU HURT ME” on their ass.
- Have the conversation
This is the hard (but necessary!) part. And I know, I know, it makes me shudder in fear too. But think about the alternative — letting the hate grudge fester over the weeks and months until it poisons your entire friendship. Yeah, not ideal.
Try to meet at a place where you’ll have something to do with your hands (a coffee shop is good, neutral territory), because for some reason that always makes these kinds of situations easier. Get into it by describing the situation from your point of view. Amy’s advice here? Don’t get too flowery or descriptive. You’ll end up filling the awkward space with things you didn’t mean to say and that can charge up the whole thing all over again.
- Listen to the other person’s perspective
Be courteous — don’t interrupt! Let them explain their side of the situation, just like you had the opportunity to explain yours.
In the best case scenario, the other party is not defensive and provides an explanation that soothes your wounds. Most conflicts are just a misunderstanding by one or both parties involved. Pat yourself on the back, your conflict resolution was a success and you and your friend can now go on living your rad lives.
In the worst case scenario, the other party confirms your suspicion and doesn’t provide an alternate explanation or show understanding to you. What do you do here? Stay calm. Try not to get defensive (that never helps — seriously). Understand that you don’t have to provide a “neat” resolution for them, or agree with what they’re saying and ignore your own feelings. Simply agree to disagree and end the conversation. At least now, the boundaries have been set, and you both know this is an area where you won’t agree. It’s up to you to assess whether or not that area is large enough or important enough to affect your relationship moving forward.
- Move on with your life
Either the conflict has been resolved or you’ve agreed to disagree — in either case, it’s time to move on. You’ve been authentic with each other, and that’s something to be seriously proud of. Being true to your own emotions and opening up to others when they hurt you is intense and difficult. But you did it! Get some self-care in, eat some ice cream, and take a little mental break. You deserve it.