I’ve written a lot about resolving conflict with constructive communication. The reason for this is that conflict is often fueled by our perceptions which do not often reflect accurately the facts or other person’s intentions.
I remember seeing a good friend of mine on the other side of the street. I waved enthusiastically at her but couldn’t cross over because of the traffic. She didn’t stop and carried on. I felt rejected and hurt but I didn’t ask her about it. When I saw her again a week later, she acted as though nothing had happened. In fact, it hadn’t. When she passed me in the street, she’d just had an argument with a woman in a shop and was trying hard not to cry. She just hadn’t seen me. My perception of conflict dissolved.
The silent treatment can lead to negative perceptions and allow emotions to fester. When you feel that the time is right, here is a list of my favourite questions to help you attempt to build trust, empathy and to work out a way to move forward.
- Are you angry/ unhappy / irritated (etc) because…. ?
- Why don’t you tell me how you feel?
- Why are you angry?
- Would you like me to listen to you whilst you tell me about your feelings?
- How did this make you feel?
You may also express how you feel about a conflict in the following way:
“I felt angry when I found out that I would not be promoted because I have worked very hard and I need my efforts to be acknowledged.”
“I feel aggrieved by not being able to see my children everyday and I feel worried that the distance between us might badly affect their well-being and our relationship.”
Remember, your feelings are not who you are. They are just the energetic response that you feel to conflict. Try not to blame the other person for those responses by saying something like “I am angry that you lied.” Even if that is the case, you could use language to de-escalate the conflict with something like “I feel angry and upset with what you said because it does not reflect what happened.”
- How will we know when we can trust each other?
- What do I need to do to show that you can trust me?
- How will trust help us resolve this?
- What does trust mean to you?
- How do you know when you can’t trust somebody?
- What can we do to build trust between us?
You can build trust not just through your words but through your actions. Agreeing the limits of confidentiality is a good starting point. Similarly it helps to assure the other party that your intention is to resolve the conflict in good faith.
- What did you mean when you said…?
- What were your intentions?
- What did you understand by my behaviour /words?
- How did you perceive my intentions?
- Would you like me to explain what I intended when I said/ did …?
- Would you let me explain why I did what I did?
Looking To The Future
- What will this conflict do to our relationship?
- How can we repair the damage that this conflict has caused to our relationship?
- How do you see a future between us/ our businesses etc?
- What would you be willing to let go of in order to move on?
- What will happen if we allow this conflict to continue?
- How will this benefit / disadvantage us?
- What will we lose/ gain by allowing this conflict to continue?
Questions to Ask Yourself
- What good is this conflict doing me?
- Who will I be without it?
- What will happen / won’t happen if I let it go?
- What emotions am I experiencing about it?
- What do I need to forgive?
- How will I know when the conflict is over?
- What power does this conflict have over me?
- What will my day look like without it?
- How is this conflict affecting my mental well-being?
- How is this conflict affecting my intimate relationships?
- Why is this conflict important to me?
- What would I be willing to do to resolve it?
- What would a potential resolution look like?
- What would I be willing to accept?
- What won’t I accept?
- What does this conflict reveal about me and my values?
- What are my intentions?
- What is my perception?
- Would distance help me?
- Which of my needs are being neglected and which are being satisfied by this conflict?
- What do I feel I have gained or lost by this conflict?
- How will a resolution serve my interests?
There are hundreds of questions that you could ask yourself and the other person, but the categories above could be helpful. Dialogue is constantly in flow and whilst you can prepare for it, you cannot predict what the answer might be. The best tool you have is your ability to listen without judgement to the answers, summarise, ask for clarification and attempt to sit uncomfortably with some of things that you hear. Empathy and compassion for yourself and the other person will help you manage the conflict and stop it from escalating.
It’s also important to remember that the end result will hopefully be an agreement. You can get there quicker by asking questions about the interests and needs of the other person. You will have to divulge your own interests and needs and together, come up with a way to satisfy them all with a mutually beneficial agreement.
This involves feeling vulnerable and is the reason building trust is important.This isn’t easy, as conflict damages relationships and trust. That’s where a mediator might prove helpful.
Do you have any more useful questions? I’d love to hear them!