This is actually very simple, yet very difficult. And the main reason why it is difficult is pride. And pride is a complicated thing, as it drives us to do irrational things that aren´t productive in resolving a conflict.
Let me ask you, the last time you had an argument or fell out with someone, who´s at fault for it? I am sure it was the other person, right?
What do you think the other person would say if I were to ask them? Would they agree with you and say they were the issue? Probably not, right? Because then there wouldn´t be an issue at all.
No, in most cases when there is a conflict, both parties believe the fault lies with the other, and this is down to lack information and assumptions based on this lack of information, pride and cognitive biases that makes us put ourselves in a more positive light than we probably warrant.
If we fall out with someone, we often then avoid that person, only empowering our assumptions that are based on lack of, or even missing, information, because now we hold this person in low esteem, so our biases manage to make everything they do or say (or don´t do or say) more negative than it is. We might even fall into the trap of mentally accusing the other of not trying to do anything to correct the issue, without doing anything to do so ourselves.
We might not avoid that person, maybe because we are forced to see each other through being colleagues, friends in the same friend group or worse, partners. In this case, we often either give each other the silent treatment, or only exchange profanities, accusations or passive aggressive less subtle hints to our displeasure with them. As I am sure you can see, from an objective point of view, this is not a very productive way to handle an argument, again, all we create is further resentment towards each other.
But, what if I told you that you could easily mend situations like this, and live a life without any unnecessary conflict, just by learning to control your ego and question your own biases?
All it takes are a few simple but difficult steps, but when you have first practiced them, they become easier.
Be the bigger man (or woman!) and take the first step. You might feel like you have been wronged and it is up to the other person to try and mend, but this will get you nowhere. Take the first step and address the situation.
Say sorry. And this is even if you don´t think you are wrong in any way because you have clearly done something to upset the other person, so in their eyes you are wrong, and that you should take responsibility for. Say something like “I am sorry for having upset you, that was not my intention, however” if you having a burning desire to not take responsibility for the conflict, only that the other person is upset.
No accusations. Don´t open the conversation by saying “I got angry because you didn´t respect me” or “I can´t walk around here being careful with what I say just because you are so sensitive”. Same goes for “I only say these things because you get on my nerves by constantly coming home late” for a child, or “I wish you just wouldn´t keep making these mistakes, they infuriate me” to a colleague. The only thing you will get out of this is a defensive response, which makes a productive talk all the more difficult, and most likely counter accusations. Then suddenly we are back to only building more resentment and animosity.
And on that same note, never use definites. If you are annoyed that your child comes home later than agreed a few times, don’t say “always”. If you are angry that your partner often doesn´t wash the dishes, don´t say “never”. By using definites like that, the only thing you end up doing is discussing the frequency of an occurrence, not the cause of it.
Imagine this discussion:
Person 1: “I hate that you never tidy up the room.”.
Person 2: “What do you mean, I do tidy it up sometimes?”.
Person 1: “No, you never tidy your room, I always have to come in and do it”.
Person 2: “That´s not true!”.
This is not a very productive conversation, right? And it doesn´t really matter if the “never” or “always” is actually true (note, it hardly ever is), it is still not a productive way to discuss a subject.
If bringing your observations, present them as exactly that, observations. This means, no “You always do …” or “you never do …” or even “you often don´t do … even though you know I want you to”. As this is always your opinion, based on your observations, rather say “From what I can see, you tend to …” or “it looks like to me that you sometimes don´t”.
This is a much softer way to approach it, there is less chance of a defensive reaction, and even if there is, it is hard to be defensive against another person’s observations.
Ask questions, uncover needs, desires and reasons. And this is maybe the most important of them all, but it wouldn´t be possible to do this without having passed through the previous steps. Don´t tell a person that a certain thing they do and they should stop doing it, tell them that you have observed them doing a certain thing in a way you find wrong, and if there is any particular reason why they choose to do that? Does it help them? Give them satisfaction, what is the underlying reasons for their actions or anger. I promise you, as soon as you get to this, and you ask some good questions, you will instantly find sympathy for the other person’s situation which will lead to a solution – in most cases.
If the above does not lead to the final solution, ask for help. “Okay, so I understand that you are angry at me because you think I do too little of …”. “How can I avoid making you angry? Do I just need to do … more often? Will you help show me how and remember?”. Or maybe “Okay, so what I understand from what you have told me is that you stopped not giving your best at work because you lost motivation because you didn’t agree with some of the decisions I have made recently. I would love to get you back to your motivated self, what can I do? Do you have suggestions for better decisions? Would you like me to ask for your opinion on a subject next time?”
Hug and make up. Or at least look each other in the eyes and shake hands.
Try this if you have any current conflicts with friends, family or coworkers, or the next time you end up in one. And if you are currently experiencing a situation in which you cannot see a way out, write me a message through the little Facebook Messenger button below, and let´s talk about it 🙂