Conflict with loved ones are often some of the most powerful conflicts we’ll experience in our lives. They have the power to bring us to our knees, question the relationship, and even cut people from our lives. They also have the power to make the relationship–and us–stronger than before.
How do we achieve the latter instead of the former? As I was writing The Conflict Pivot, I thought about this a lot. I believe it comes down to the ability to do three things well:
- Make sure, when you sit down to talk, you’re able to bring your best self to the conversation so that you can access your good conflict resolution skills.
- Make sure, when you sit down to talk, that you’re addressing the right problem. It’s surprising how often the real problem is hidden from your view until you know how to look for it.
- Know how to truly let go of minor skirmishes that don’t matter, and know how to decide whether or not to let go of more important differences that defy resolution.
Here are some ways that conflict pivots can help you successfully navigate marital conflict, sibling conflict, conflict with a parent or child, and other family conflict:
Get past the same old argument
When I work with couples who’ve been together for a while, many tell me that a lot of their arguments ultimately lead back to one or two primary arguments they’ve been having for years and just can’t seem to get past. That’s incredibly frustrating.
Those old arguments keep coming up because something in them hasn’t been sufficiently resolved or because they’re such a habit for you now that they suck you in before you can turn away. The three-step conflict pivot approach can help you discern important matters that remain unresolved and help you break old argument habits. It’ll take your commitment to do that, as with any well-ingrained habit, but it can be done and if it’s a relationship that matters, it’s probably worth the effort.
Handle constant criticism
Here’s the thing about criticism: Sometime’s it’s real–they really do mean to criticize you. Sometimes it’s real but not true–you experience criticism even when that’s not their intention (I discuss this in detail in the book).
When it’s real, you need to be on your best game to handle it gracefully and respond to the constant criticism in a way that brings it to an end. When it’s real but not true, you need a way to know so that you don’t add tension to the relationship and you can let it go. The second of the three conflict pivots should help you quite a bit with both of these.
Calm down during conflict
You can have all the best conflict resolution skills and tools in the world, but if you can’t access them when you need them most, they’re of little use to you.
When you know the kinds of situations and conflicts most likely to hook you (snag your attention) in conflict, though, you have an immediately accessible tool for calming yourself down in the midst of messy conversations, getting your balance back, and regaining access to your good skills and tools. And when you’re blindsided by a situation you didn’t know could hook you, the simple, three-step conflict pivot approach can help you immediately drill down to why you’ve been knocked off balance and what to do about it.
Know when to confront and when to avoid
Not every conflict warrants a confrontation about it or serious attempts to sort it out. That’s because some conflicts arise not so much because of what the other person said or did, but because your sensitive trigger got in the way. It’s true: Some conflict in your life can be dispensed with easily and without a big to-do when you know your conflict hooks and how to un-snag yourself.
Some conflicts do warrant real attention so that they don’t damage the relationship in the long run. When you avoid those, perhaps in the name of keeping the peace, you actually risk an unintended result: Damaging the relationship through the erosion of trust and a growing divide.
The third of the three conflict pivots directly addresses the “confront or let it go” question.