Have you ever had one of those “hard conversations” that somehow went south?
Or have you ever gone to someone to just “talk” about an issue, and it ended as a shouting match or a heated argument?
Or maybe instead of having the hard conversation, you let it simmer inside of you until it burst out in one giant explosion?
Unfortunately, these are the results that many of us have when it comes to conflict in our lives. Instead of handling it well and solving it, we often do it wrong. And when we do it wrong, we frequently don’t even realize it.
How do we do it wrong? Here are 7 ways that we handle conflict poorly:
We are silent and stifle
Sometimes when there is an issue at hand, we just stay silent. We don’t say anything. We just let the behavior continue or the situation continue as is. Maybe it’s a bad plan that management is proposing, but we don’t say anything. Maybe there are issues we need to discuss with our spouse, but we stay quiet. Maybe our kid’s behavior is troubling, but we let it be.
We are silent, and stifle. Sometimes it may come out in sarcastic remarks. Sometimes we may give “hints”. But in general, we just stay silent and stifle it.
Unfortunately, that’s dangerous. When we stifle and never speak up, it can lead to a lack of joy or even depression in our lives. We can grow resentful toward others and hurt our relationships with them. And the behavior that could be damaging to our relationships, to our family, to our workplace, it goes on unhindered because nothing was said.
We are holding till exploding
Other times when we are silent, we are silent only for a period of time. We let it build, and build, and build, till suddenly…. BOOM. We let the person HAVE IT. We tell them off.
Then, often, we may feel guilt afterward. And we go back to silence.
This is dangerous as well. For one, it hurts relationships. It’s unfair for the other person who you don’t say anything to suddenly explode on them.
And do you think that it will change their behavior? Likely not. What it will likely bring is resentment.
How many kids have you seen who know just how far to push the boundaries with a “holder till exploder” knowing they can get away with it as long as they don’t cross that threshold?
We are indirect or give “subtle” hints
Sometimes we can be indirect about the situation and give “hints”. The danger is, often, the other person never gets the hint! Then the person who gives the hints gets mad because the other person doesn’t “get it”.
How unfair is that? All that leads to is the problem continuing and resentful feelings.
As Dr. Michael Nichols said in his book The Lost Art of Listening, “Like every listener, he measured the intention of other speakers by what they said, or what he heard and asked that they measure him by what he meant to say.”
We force our viewpoint
On the other side of the spectrum, we force our viewpoint on people. We may dominate the conversation forcing our opinion. We may get angry and lash out and use threatening or intimidating language (or even physically) toward the other person to make sure our viewpoint is “heard”.
This kind of behavior doesn’t work either. Force just causes resistance. When you try to force your opinion on someone, all it does is cause the other person to push back. Now, if you threaten and yell, they may not argue back, but believe me, you sure didn’t win any hearts on your viewpoint, and you probably damaged some relationships.
We name call or label
Sometimes when people have a disagreement, they just name call or label. Instead of having a conversation, they attack by calling people names. And as Dr. Robert Bolton says in People Skills, when we label someone, we no longer see a person, only a type.
It makes it easier to trash and not listen to someone when they are just a type.
Of course, this doesn’t resolve the issue either. It actually hinders communication and, of course, damages relationships.
We publicly assassinate people
Handling a conflict issue with someone should be done in private as much as possible. Unfortunately, sometimes we like to “confront” or say things about the issue in front of others. We may talk behind their backs (which doesn’t solve anything), or we may tell them what they did wrong in front of other people.
How do you think someone will react when you embarrass them in front of other people? Likely, they will push back and a loud argument in front of other people may start. Or they may just walk away hurt or upset. The chances of the problem being solved are slim, and resentful feelings are sure to follow.
We use sarcastic or quick, cutting remarks
Sometimes instead of being direct, we will just use sarcastic remarks toward the person. Sometimes the other person may not even know there is an issue, and you are just expecting them to know. Other times you may have said something once, but they aren’t doing it, so instead of talking, you make the remarks.
This, of course, doesnt resolve it either. The person likely has no idea what the problem is, and it will just cause hard or resentful feelings which will only make the situation worse.
We don’t do it in person
Another way we handle conflict wrong is that we don’t handle it in person. We often feel safer behind an email or Facebook message or text. The problem is, when you do it behind a text editor, so much communication is lost. Messages not done in person lose so much because people can’t see your body language or hear your inflections. Messages through text, email, etc. are RIPE for misinterpretation and can just make the situation worse. Phone is better if that is the only option, but in person is ideal.
Be direct, tactful and listen
Instead of handling conflict with these poor methods, let’s do it right. Actually talk to the person about the issue. Start with the facts and then let them know how you interpreted the sitution and how it made you feel. Then listen to them and learn their viewpoint.
The reason many of our hard or difficult conversations turn bad is because we don’t listen. Actually listen and try to understand the other person viewpoint, and you are on the way to solving the issue.
How have you been doing it wrong?