“You’re ruining my life,” said Jay.
Jay was a student in my Interpersonal Conflict graduate class, where students are invited to consider their unique strengths in resolving conflict and decide how to change conflict behavior that could be better. I designed the course in 1999 and have taught it countless times since in several grad programs around the country. It later spawned one- and two-day trainings for individuals and organizations.
Jay went on, “I’m trying to do this conflict stuff better. I’m taking what I’m learning here and trying to apply it at home. And I’m pretty proud of how I’ve improved.”
“And yet I’m ruining your life?” I asked with a smile, because he was grinning his lopsided grin at me.
“I’m driving people around me nuts. I’m not being the Jay they expect me to be. I’m reacting differently. And even though it’s a better reaction, it’s throwing them off. My girlfriend, my parents, everyone’s noticing. I don’t think they know they should like the new Jay.”
It’s been more than a decade since Jay said that to me in class one day, but I’ve never forgotten him. I tell Jay’s story in every interpersonal conflict class and training I teach, because when you change conflict behavior, sometimes others have to change too. It’s helpful to expect some minor bumps and anticipate how to respond to them.
- When you change conflict behavior, those around you may not fully notice right away. They’re still expecting to see the old you and it may take some time for them to first notice the change. Just say, “Hey, have you noticed I just did Y instead of Z? I’m so happy I did that I’m going to dance around the living room now.”
- When you change conflict behavior, those around you may not fully trust the change right away. Just as you wanted latitude to change an old habit, allow them the latitude to see that the change is sticking. Just say, “I know it may take a while ’til we can both believe I’m acting differently in conflict now. Thanks for believing in me.”
- When you change conflict behavior, those around you may highlight when you trip up. They’ll notice when you blew it. Just calmly say, “You’re right, I blew it that time. It would be so great if you would also note when I get it right. Thanks.”
- When you change conflict behavior, those around you may be thrown off balance initially because they have their own behavior patterns based on what they expect from you. They may not like how it feels at first, which will sound like a mixed message to you (“change your behavior…I dislike that you changed your behavior!”). Just say, “I’ve been working on changing my reaction in situations like these and I know it’ll throw us both off in the short run. Thanks for bearing with me as we figure out the steps to my new dance.”