How To Manage Conflict With Friends And Family
When we face conflict with someone, even a friend or a family member, our main concern is often that we want to be ‘right’ and we believe the other person is ‘wrong’. We often experience feelings of discomfort and frustration.
I wanted to understand where these feelings come from and so I set out myself a bold challenge to dig deep and work out why disagreements made me feel so many emotions.
To start, I spent some time reflecting on what I truly want from a conversation with someone with whom I disagree. Here’s the conclusion I’ve reached: I want to be able to put my point across AND understand the other person’s differing perspectives. In other words, I’d like for us both to ‘win’, to learn something and to leave the conversation having expressed myself authentically.
So, how do we achieve that? How can we communicate in a way that creates value for ourselves and the other person with whom we’re disagreeing? Do we have a debate? A discussion? What about dialogue? What does that even mean?
The History of Disagreements
As it turns out, the word ‘debate’ comes from an old form of French, ‘debat’, which means ‘to fight’. Debate, quite simply, is a fancy name for a violent conversation. No thanks! I think we’re all aware of the conflict that’s happening in our communities and the world right now. Let’s move on to ‘discussion’. Does that help create unity?
Discussion comes from the Latin word ‘discussus’ which means ‘struck apart’ or ‘scattered.’ At least this allows for everyone to chip in with their thoughts and consider different opinions but there’s no resolution element and I’m determined to find that win-win.
Dialogue comes from the Greek words ‘dia’ and ‘logos’ which means ‘flow of meaning.’ At its heart, it’s a conversational process between two people, to create a shared understanding through listening and reflection. Boom! That sounds interesting and valuable.
Engaging in Meaningful Dialogue
So how do we engage in dialogue in a meaningful way, without hurting others’ or our own feelings? Here are The Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying Youth Board’s top tips:
Pick the Right Time and Place
Wherever possible, create a safe space for your conversation to happen. Somewhere quiet where you both feel safe and comfy. It could be nice to take a walk or eat a meal together while you’re talking. Sometimes, a disagreement happens spontaneously and it can be hard to get the time and place right every time but remember that you are both in control and you can calmly ask to pick the conversation back up at a later time or place if you don’t feel ready.
Be honest and clear
Share your perspective honestly, without blaming anyone. Listen to the other person without interruptions and suspend your judgement or assumptions about what they say. Ask questions to make sure you understand where they are coming from.
Keep the dialogue one-to-one; between you and the person who you disagree with. If you feel like you need a neutral person there, ask a trusted adult to support you as a mediator.
Find Common Ground
Remember that there are no winners or losers in dialogue. Both sides win. Check your intention: do you want to be right? Or do you want to listen, share your side and find a common ground?
Try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and, equally, they should try to empathise with your point of view too. Use eye contact to show that you care about what they have to say and use active listening (like repeating back what they have said, positive body language like nodding and keeping arms uncrossed) to show that you are listening closely and are open about what they are sharing.
Putting This All Into Practice
So once I had listened to the Youth Board’s ideas, it was time to put them to the test: a few weeks ago, I had lunch with a friend where we disagreed over what it means to be ‘healthy’. At first, it was difficult to accept that she disagreed with me. I felt the emotions bubbling up! But, as I’d been reading about dialogue, I knew what I could do.
I asked her a question about her opinion on health and she reflected on how people can spend time and effort eating well and exercising but are unhappy with themselves at a deeper level, which is also a key aspect of health. I hadn’t considered this. I agreed with her and thanked her for opening up about what ‘health’ means to her. She also said that I raised a good point about each person having a responsibility to make their own informed choices about diet and exercise. This is part of health too. We found common ground and a resolution. It was so satisfying!
During our conversation, I had to battle the urge inside of me to ‘be right’ and instead channel that energy towards staying curious about her experiences and thoughts on the subject. For me, the key is listening without judging.
I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to resolve a conflict through dialogue after all of this. I hope you are too!