Edmonds: Methods to resolve conflict more gracefully

McCoy Edmonds, Columnist

We live in a world of conflict. It’s a challenge in forming organizations and friend groups and when dealing with family. It is a product of confrontation. I think most people would prefer solving things without taking the steps to achieve the resolution or ignoring the conflict, even though this never solves anything. It goes against much of what we believe keeps relationships together, but it’s something I’ve learned must be confronted.

Arguments don’t have to be a full out war, especially if you catch things early. Small things are easy to fix, but can otherwise build up. Missed appointments, dishes left in the sink and thoughtless comments are all annoying, but are not worth engaging in big fights over. If you communicate your frustration early, then the problem can be addressed quickly in the moment. This decreases the chance that tension will build over time. No late nights of ranting or increased blood pressure. Nothing goes away on its own. Talk about it.

Larger conflicts, however, should be talked through with a few guidelines in mind. Anything is solvable. First, by using “I feel” statements rather than “You are,” you come across as less demanding and more open to hearing their perspective. Second, actively listen to their response. Ask questions. It’s difficult to do, but it is the best way to find a real solution. Which leads me to step three: Go into an argument looking to find a solution. Airing your grievances is fine, but that should be secondary, or rather, a precursor to a solution. If you go in just wanting to yell, you should probably consider confronting the issue when you’re calmer. In the end, the solution may not be perfect but the conflict should feel smoothed over.

I think 90 percent of conflicts can be resolved using the above, but sometimes these steps may not be enough. Conflict resolution takes all parties’ full participation. Some people are not mature enough or too angry to engage in the process. If you get yelled at, talked over or insulted, there is no obligation on your part to continue the conversation. Pick it back up later. If this pattern of dismissive behavior is recurrent then it may be necessary to accept that the conflict isn’t solvable. And this is truly the hardest part, especially if it’s a friend or family member.

You may be tempted to deny that there is an issue. You may decide the dispute isn’t worth it, or that maybe you’re just wrong. Don’t believe this. If the issue is important enough to you to start a discussion, then it should be solved. Even if it’s “ridiculous,” a true friend will listen and try for a solution. Even if that solution is simply explaining the misunderstanding or sincerely apologizing for hurting your feelings. If someone gives you reasons why your feelings are illegitimate, rather than focusing on behaviors, that is a toxic relationship. Go to other friends, mentors or family members for support, whoever will legitimize you. Use that help to disengage from the toxic person’s life. Trust me, if they really cared, they’d listen.

Try to remember that conflict is normal and the sooner you bring it up the less of a problem it becomes. If bigger conflicts come your way, listen and look for solutions. Disagreements are tough but it’s always better to talk it out. The best tell for an unhealthy relationship is one in which an individual doesn’t feel heard or respected by another. Remember your feelings are always legitimate (even if it turns out your understanding isn’t) and they should be addressed respectfully. You matter and your opinions matter, as do the opinions of others.

Conflict is never easy, but its resolution is the glue that keeps all relationships together.