Dr. Alan Zimmerman | Motivational speaker

How to resolve conflict with more respect and less hurt

Life is tough enough. Add our pandemic health and tsunami economic challenges to the mix and conflicts are bound to sprout up everywhere … at home and on the job.

It’s like getting bitten by a rattlesnake.

Just like one man I remember who was rushed to the hospital after he had been bitten by a rattlesnake. When he asked the doctor, “Is it life-threatening?” the doctor said, “The bite isn’t, but the poison is.”

I think the same thing could be said about our current situation nationally and globally. The virus is one thing but how we manage it is even more important.

But I want to talk to you personally today about what you can do if you find yourself having more poison or conflicts in your relationships these days. After all, people are responding differently to the fear, anxiety, and uncertainty this virus creates, which can translate into disagreements about how they can attempt to stay virus-free.

For example, two of my friends were arguing about dinner plans. Susan wanted to order takeout, but her husband Marcus didn’t think it was a good idea. Finding it difficult to talk about, they ignored the issue for a while until Susan got hungry and ordered the food. Marcus responded with an eye roll of indignation. “I didn’t think it was a big deal, but obviously he did,” Susan said.

All of us need to be extra effective with our conflict resolution skills right now. And these tips will help.

► 1. Ask yourself three questions before you confront someone.

There’s a popular myth out there that says you should just tell it the way it is. Let it all hang out. In other words, if you don’t like or agree with what someone is doing, tell them in no uncertain terms.

It might sound noble. You might even justify such behavior by saying “I’m just being honest.” No, you’re not. You’re being stupid … because that approach almost never works. If you spend your life correcting people you’ll finish up with no credibility and no friends.

You’ll have a lot more success if you ask yourself these questions before you speak. They tend to filter out the destructive elements in your communication and encourage the other person to listen to you.

a. Is it important?

If it involves a destructive habit, an abusive behavior, a major error in thinking, or a situation that could hurt the other person, it’s important. You’ve passed the first step to opening your mouth.

b. Is it chronic?

If you observe the same thing happening over and over, it probably merits your attention and your bringing it to the other person’s attention.

c. Have you earned the right to speak?

If a casual acquaintance does something unwise, it’s probably none of your business. But if someone close to you does it, it’s both appropriate and loving to say, “That will hurt you.”

When you answer all three questions with a “yes,” you can move on to the next tip.

► 2. Be willing to accept your piece of the conflict.

Have you intentionally or unintentionally contributed to the conflict or the issue in any way?

It’s a tough question to ask yourself because pride gets in the way. You can easily see the 99% that is the other person’s fault, but it may be very difficult to see the 1% where you’re at fault.

Join me Thursday: May 7th, 2020 2:00PM-3:00PM Eastern for a new live Webinar How to Resolve Conflict with More Respect and Less Hurt

That’s why I teach my coaching clients this affirmation. They are to memorize it and occasionally repeat it to themselves: I will never have peace in the conflict until I see my piece of the conflict.

By contrast, most of us tend to write a story in our heads as to what is happening in our conflict situations. And most of us write a story that writes away any and all of our responsibility in the conflict. Again it doesn’t work … to put on blinders and put all the blame on the other person.

► 3. Speak your confrontation with kindness.

I’ve been reading a book called, Paul: A Biography by N. T. Wright. It’s heavy, slow going, but I’m learning. Paul dealt with a great deal of conflict, but he also spoke and wrote extensively on love. Indeed, he put the two together.

Paul said “love is not rude.” That certainly applies to our discussion of conflict resolution. In other words, when you confront someone, you do not take an “open-wide-while-I-jam-this-down-your-throat” approach.

Instead, you find the best time to share your comments. And typically that is as soon after the problem occurs as possible … if the other person is able to hear you at that point. The longer you wait, the worse it will get. It’s like the leak in the shower. It’s never going to fix itself.

Paul also said “love is not self-seeking.” In other words, your goal is not to be liked or accepted … for the moment, anyway. Your goal is to make sure the other person hears the truth they need to hear, filtered only by your kindness.

It would be self-seeking to only speak half of the truth because you’re uncomfortable with conflict. You need to remember it’s not about you. It’s about the relationship.

Paul also said “love is not easily angered” and “keeps no record of wrongs.” When you confront someone, you may get an angry response in return. The other person might say “Who are you telling me?” They might wrong you.

That’s when you need to remember the snake bite. The “bites” you suffer at the hands of others are painful and upsetting, but they’re not lethal. What happens to you, what other people say to you normally doesn’t destroy you. But what happens in you afterwards can.

If you are embittered by the other person’s response, if you go on thinking “how dare they respond like that … I was just trying to help,” you’re on dangerous ground. Instead, practice the 10% grace factor I spoke about in last week’s webinar. Allow for the fact that about 10% of the time things won’t go the way you would like them to.

In conclusion, we are going to get past this scary, crazy, dangerous COVID-19 crisis, but it will take some extra conflict resolution skills to get us there. The skills I mentioned today will help.