When Conflicts Arise

Article contributed by Amy Sargent.

Is there someone with whom you’re harboring an unresolved conflict?

Pause for a moment and think about this someone.  Maybe they’ve recently wronged you, or hurled hurtful words, or showed you disdain or disrespect. Possibly they simply don’t agree with you and have been adamant about letting you know.  OK–got this person in mind? Focus on his/her face, and the last expression you saw in their eyes. Does your heart begin to race? Do you feel your anger rising as you begin to ruminate about that last conversation you had with them? Do sarcastic, hurtful words come to mind which you would like to say to them if ever you got the nerve? If you were to describe this person to me, what adjectives would you use?

Now, stop thinking about them and get back to what you were doing. Easier said than done?

If you experience strong, negative emotions when thinking about an unresolved conflict with someone, whether friend or perceived foe, there may be more at stake than just the two of you’s relationship. Though it’s definitely easier to side step differences, sweep issues under the rug or just avoid the person altogether, running from conflict resolve may not be the healthiest choice. Barring unsafe people who you must protect yourself from, learning and practicing conflict resolution is a brave thing to do — and can help you lead a healthier, happier life.

“Bravery is the choice to show up and listen to another person, be it a loved one or perceived foe, even when it is uncomfortable, painful, or the last thing you want to do.”  ― Alaric Hutchinson

We all are pretty good at making a connection between eating healthy foods, sleeping well, and exercising and our physical and mental well being. But how many recognize the value of positive social connections and their impact on our health?

Those experiencing unresolved conflict often become frustrated because there seems to be no workable solution, which can result in stress, sleep issues, loss of appetite, or overeating. Headaches, stomach aches, shoulder and neck pain, and a general down-in-the-mouth demeanor can deem you unavailable and unapproachable to others, thus negatively affecting relationships, both at work and at home.  And how about that ruminating piece?  Ever find yourself talking and talking (and talking) about the unresolved issue with anyone who’ll lend an ear? I daresay after a few sessions of this, friends, family, and coworkers may tire of having to hear about the same ole’ issues making their rounds in your conversations, and one by one will become less and less available as your sounding board.

It matters whether or not we get along with others.  Dr. Dana Avey is a Marriage & Family Therapist and explains how this works.  “Overall, having a social network of friends with whom one can spend time is noted to have significant mental health benefits, particularly as evidenced by experiencing an improved mood, both when in the company of others but also in the aftermath of the time spent socializing.  It can become very easy to become isolated with one’s own thoughts and feelings and connecting with others can offer objective feedback and support.” A study done by Deborah Umberson and Jennifer Karas Montez showed that poor social relationships present serious ill-effects on our health. One of their findings showed that both the quantity and quality of social relationships affect our mental health, health behavior, physical health, and our risk of mortality. A striking sub-study by Berkman and Syme in 1997 revealed that the risk of death among men and women with the fewest social connections was more than twice as high as the risk for adults with the most relationships.  They also found that solid social ties reduce mortality risk among adults — even those with poor health. (research.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150158/).

In an interesting study done by House, Landis, and Umberson, the researchers uncovered that a lack of social connection has a greater negative impact on our health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure!  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/241/4865/540

On the contrary, healthy social connections can lead to a 50% chance of living longer, strengthen our immune systems, and help us recover more quickly from disease (https://emmaseppala.com/connect-thrive-infographic/).

As if this isn’t enough evidence to encourage us to work out our conflicts and strengthen relationships, consider this:  One of the negative, lasting effects of being in an unhealthy  relationship is a steady erosion of your self-worth. Says Claire Arene, MSW, LCSW, staff writer for healthyplace.com, “It is not unusual to find individuals with serious personality disorders as a result of the insidious effect of unhealthy long-term associations.”(https://www.healthyplace.com/relationships/unhealthy-relationships/the-impact-of-being-in-an-unhealthy-relationship)

If you have unresolved conflict with someone, it’s time to take action. Your physical and mental health is at stake. Even if the other party is not willing to make amends, the path toward healing can begin with you.

“Whenever you’re in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude.” — William James

Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Become self-aware of your own emotions and where they are stemming from. List out how you are feeling, using as much detail as possible, and attempt to determine if what you are feeling is a direct result of the conflict — or are there other factors at hand? Understanding what you’re feeling and why will lead to greater insight into why this conflict arose.
  • If your emotions are running on high, consider stepping back for a moment to let yourself cool down. When we lash out in anger or a negative emotional state, it’s very likely we’ll say something we’ll regret.  Take a walk, journal, talk to a counselor–whatever it is you do to get your emotions in check — before you attempt to reconcile.

“Speak when you are angry – and you’ll make the best speech you’ll ever regret. –Laurence J. Peter

  • Tune in to what the other person may be feeling. Understanding where they are coming from and where their emotions are stemming from can help you develop empathy for their point of view. How to do this? Ask open-ended questions to discover the whys behind their words. Try to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their viewpoint.
  • Improve your listening skills. Stop thinking about how you will respond and really listen to what they are saying–and what they are not saying. Watch their body language and ask question for clarity when needed. When they finish, ask them if there’s anything else they’d like to add before you pipe up.
  • Withhold character judgments. When someone opposes you in a combative manner, it’s easy to self-protect and convince yourself that they are a bad person. Try to focus on the issues at hand rather than trying to become a judge of their morality by focusing on the problem not the person.
  • Speak without finger pointing. When it’s time for you to speak up, take care to avoid blatant insults, nicely-hidden put-downs, or assigning blame. You are there to express your viewpoint, not make assumptions as to what they are feeling or thinking.
  • Keep calm and cool. Agitated body language and words laced with negative emotion can put the other person on the defensive before you even get started.  Slow down, lower your volume, and choose your words carefully. Check your facial expression. Even something as simple as softening your expression by raising your eyebrows and removing that frown can ease the tension.

“A soft answer turns away wrath.” — Ancient proverb

  • Try to find common ground. Though there is obvious disagreement, is there anything you agree upon? Finding issues you both connect and agree upon can form a bond and build trust. A “me too” attitude provides a sense that you’re on the same team…partners in collaboration vs. opponents in battle.
  • A little laughter goes a long way.  Unfortunately, our sense of humor is one of the first things to go into hiding when we’re agitated. When you laugh with another, a positive bond is formed which provides a buffer against negativity (https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/managing-conflicts-with-humor.htm  ). However, avoid sarcastic humor at all costs.
  • Remember, you can’t control the other person.  Despite your best efforts, the person you’re clashing with may not respond in the way you hope. Your role is not to control their reactions, but to manage your own behavior in a way that lends a hand toward resolution. Sometimes, you may have to do the right thing and let go of the outcome.

It’s not easy to solve conflicts, but making attempts toward peace and understanding is worth the effort. Who will you start with today?

“Every conflict we face in life is rich with positive and negative potential. It can be a source of inspiration, enlightenment, learning, transformation, and growth-or rage, fear, shame, entrapment, and resistance. The choice is not up to our opponents, but to us, and our willingness to face and work through them.” — Kenneth Cloke

Leave a Reply

Upcoming Classes