Once again, and as always, Molly-Ten-Years-Ago has managed to oversimplify a very complicated concept: conflict resolution.
If you haven’t picked up on this throughout my previous rules (or for those just joining us at Rule #9), I’ll spell it out very plainly for you: I tend to avoid conflict.
I truly loathe it. Molly-Ten-Years-Ago, Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years, Molly-Today. Historically, I have never enjoyed conflict.
In fact, I used to dislike it so much, that I actively avoided getting in trouble, or doing things wrong, or hurting someone else. Learning I had done these things was debilitating to me. We can call it perfectionism, but Young Molly associated each of these things, not with being human, but with being The Bad Guy.
And with regards to this rule, she associated having a disagreement with being in the wrong. The other person was right and good, and I was wrong and bad.
So, while it was easy for her to write this rule as a simple step-by-step, even Molly-Ten-Years-Ago went above and beyond to avoid hard conversations.
Is it any surprise that Adult Molly felt such discomfort in addressing her negative feelings to someone else? Especially if that someone else was the perceived cause of the negativity. Is it any wonder that Molly-Over-The-Past-Ten-Years allowed so many others to violate her personhood?
Thankfully, I have since accepted that having these dialogues is not only important for interpersonal connection, it’s important for uncovering our true selves. Which is a great thing!
Through conflict, we learn where our boundaries lie; we learn what we are passionate about and why; we learn what we need to educate ourselves about; we learn how to solve problems together; we learn how to speak tenderly to each other in tense times; we learn how to apologize.
So, let’s discuss how Rule #9 is actually about incorporating all of our previous rules. Because this rule is about those hard conversations we have in order to honor and defend ourselves and our boundaries. To honor and defend those we care about.
Or maybe we’re defending ourselves to those we care about.
And sometimes, we raise our voices to defend those we have never met, whose voices have been silenced.
However, before we can resolve conflict externally, it’s important to resolve it within ourselves. How do we achieve peace internally in order to have healthy dialogue with others externally? How can we convey, in a productive manner, what we feel, if we go off half-cocked?
As I began writing this post, I had to ask myself a few questions:
How often do I identify myself, not as an individual person, but as my emotions, or my preferences, or my passions, or my interests?
When I could not separate myself from these things, how often have I felt attacked when someone disagreed with me about them? How often have I felt hurt when someone disregarded one of my boundaries?
Moreover, how many times have I lashed out against someone else, because, instead of seeing them as an individual person, I identified them as The-Human-Manifestation-Of-These-Things-I-Don’t-Like? Or The-Thing-They-Did-That-Hurt-Me?
Our first step in conflict resolution must be to remove a very specific impulse: to label either party as Victim or Villain. We simply cannot attach such stark labels to anyone and still expect a productive or candid conversation to take place.
Let’s take this one step further and really tear the mask off what is happening with these labels: (more often than not) we have created a dishonest portrayal of events in our own minds. This defense mechanism allows us to hide from the fact that we may have contributed to whatever caused us pain.
The truth is: I am not victimized because someone has overstepped a bound. Or because someone’s mindset differs from my own. And no one is a villain for not clearing the bar of my standards.
If we want to embrace loveliness, we must move past the point where we’ve given anyone the power to devastate us in these ways.
As an adult, I’ve worked hard to arrive at the point where my immediate impulse is to analyze. Analyze the full situation. Honestly. Analyze the reasons someone may have acted a certain way. Honestly. Analyze what has happened or what will not happen. Honestly.
Maybe this takes a few days, maybe I have to address this all in a few moments. Regardless, in the midst of the action or the tension, I attempt to gain some clarity for myself. I try to be quiet and sit with my emotions before I continue to engage with the other party. Doing so helps me to realize what I want to achieve through resolution.
In an effort to grow, we need to get into the practice of analyzing the emotions we feel within the context of a specific situation. At the same time, we need to practice understanding that we are not the emotions we feel.
Yeah, yeah, Molly. I’ve analyzed. Now what?
Well, I am so glad you asked!
Remember the Wheel of Emotions from Rule #7? This next step is all about understanding why we are feeling the emotions we identify. When you analyze the full situation, what emotions does each successive detail evoke?
You may have seen red at the outset of your conflict, but which shade of red? Ask yourself what iteration of angry or sad or bad the violation of your boundary made you feel: Did I feel tricked? Did I feel taken advantage of? Did I feel betrayed? Did I feel provoked? Did I feel dishonored? Did I feel jealous?
With this introspection, we next get to examine what these emotions are teaching us: What could I have done differently? What was the other person trying to achieve, and how could they have done so differently? What will I look out for next time, to prevent this from occurring again? How can I help the other party to avoid hurting me or someone else in the future?
Once we’ve worked through these questions, our final step is presenting these reflections to the proper party (not the third parties we may be venting to, though their input is much appreciated!).
So, what does this look like in action? How do we start this conversation?
Well, let’s start with What-Not-To-Do. I’ve learned to avoid using unnecessary and emotionally-charged words to describe the situation, nor should I over-describe what happened. I no longer use hyperbole, as it discounts the credibility of everything else I want to say. And the hardest thing I’ve learned is that I shouldn’t make accusations.
These all add insult to injury, and they do so needlessly. So, what do these Should Nots sound like?
“You made me [insert adjective]…” “I am so [insert adjective] that you [insert action]…” “Obviously, you did [insert action] on purpose…” “I hate that you always do this…”
Notice how the syntax of these phrases is attacking and counterproductive. More than likely, commanding your feelings to and raising your voice at the person you are speaking with will prevent them from hearing You.
Additionally, we get to leave our mean, snide and sarcastic comments and/or tones of voice at the door. Just because you choose your words wisely, does not mean your tone can’t undermine them. These are deflections we use to hide behind, and we don’t need them here.
What’s important to keep in mind is your intention in speaking with the other party. Defending your boundaries should not look like tearing someone else down, or causing them their own pain. If your mindset in speaking with your other party is to Go For The JugularTM, then I’ve missed the mark with my post.
So, to make the essence of Rule #9 perfectly clear, I want to share two of my favorite quotes on this topic:
“When you and [someone] are fighting, you both need to remember it’s you two versus the problem, not you versus [the other person].”
“With compromise, you both lose. You must both collaborate on the best possible outcome.”
How beautiful are these quotes? They show us that our disagreements or conflicts could actually be chances to team up and grow together. To open our minds and create new possibilities. To heal with more efficacy than to cause more pain.
Just like any other conversation, we start with syntax and tone. We use active listening, and direct eye contact. We ask probing questions. We give the other person a chance to confirm their side of the situation.
We should practice the following phrasing when helping others to understand how their actions affected us:
I felt + [insert adjective] + when + [insert your understanding of the situation].
I’ve found that this style of phrasing helps to de-escalate tensions when they are running a little high. It helps both sides of the conversation to see the person, not the emotion. This particular formula eliminates the opportunity for you to hide behind the identity of an emotion, and also allows you the opportunity to share your perspective of the event-in-question.
When we start our confrontation with simple phrasing, the opportunity to address the subject at hand becomes much more feasible, and less daunting for both parties.
As you move through the conversation, you can ask questions to help you understand the full situation. Taking conflict resolution in baby steps actually moves you forward, instead of being held back and mired in negativity.
Though collaborative resolution is beautiful, you can expect it to be difficult to face. But that doesn’t mean conflict is something to avoid.
This rule is about practicing it anyway. This rule is about how you will become stronger.
This rule is about how conflict resolution will never be easy, but you will become better at it.
Rule #9 is no longer about achieving conflict resolution. It is actually about striving for collaborative resolution.
Where both parties can conclude a hard conversation with peace, instead of pain.
Where your discussion can soothe the full spectrum of emotions you felt.
Where what is broken through human nature can become beautiful through reparation.
So, let’s wrap this up:
Do you find that you lean in to conflict resolution, or do you find that you try to avoid it?
How often do you find yourself creating a dishonest portrayal of a situation that upset you?
What tactics do you take in resolving conflicts with those you care about?
How has your approach to collaborative resolution changed over your lifetime?