Conflict Resolution: The Ladder To A New Self
My name is Sari van Poelje, I’m the Director of Intact Academy and of Agile Business Innovation. If you want to know more about that, please go to our websites: www.intactacademy.com and www.agilebusinessinnovation.com. We’ve got cool programs, and a great way of creating agile, innovative teams for you.
We’re talking about conflicts and more specifically conflict resolution. I did an appeal to look at the emotion underneath and the meaning underneath the conflict for you, as a way of opening the door to opportunity. More specifically, I want to invite you to look at the hidden meaning of conflict. I want to talk about the ladder for finding the meaning of a conflict. If you go up that ladder, it’s much easier to resolve conflicts.
There’s a conflict resolution ladder that starts at the top with, what are the material issues involved? What is visible? In the last example I gave it was about putting out the trash. If you want to ignore all the rest and just find a way to put out the trash that doesn’t always involve you and doesn’t always involve conflict, you need to talk about the material issue involved. What is it about? The trash? It could be about time structuring. I don’t always want to be busy with household stuff. I want to have a life in which I’m not always putting out the trash. I want to be writing my book etc. That’s a material issue. Time.
Another material issue could be money. Do we have to pay someone to put out the trash? You would contribute to the circular economy and not put out the trash yourself. Another material issue could be space. For instance, you could stop yourself from putting out the trash by having five trash cans in the house and just waiting until all of them are full. That would take up quite a lot of space in your house.
The second step to conflict resolution is personality. As I said, in the last blog, some people seem to fight about a whole lot of different things, but at the personality level, the emotion involved, the conclusions you draw from conflict is based on what type of person you are. I use the Process Communication model to look at personality types. Personality is a great indicator of what kind of conflicts you get.. For instance, we have a rebel personality type. They’re always in and out of groups, they’re on the edge. Usually, they fight about when things get too boring, but their actual issue is, “do I belong or not?”.
When I have workaholics in the team coaching, they’re usually going to fight about responsibilities and time. They find themselves doing more than other people. Then suddenly it stacks up and they start conflicts about, “am I the only person doing things around here?”.
We also have a personality type called Harmonizer. People who are focused on emotion and on relationships. They want to please others and forget to please themselves. Their conflicts are usually about, “I’m always the one taking care of others but who’s taking care of me?”.
One of the roads to conflict resolution is awareness of your personality: Can we solve the issue of needs and existential questions underneath instead of always having the same conflict? As far as we know you only have one life. Why not spend it on something that gives you more energy and more learning? Instead of repeating something you already know.
The third step in conflict resolution is: what emotion is involved? I already talked about emotions in the last blog. Within transactional analysis we talk about racket emotions and authentic emotions. A racket emotion is an emotion you’ve learned in early childhood, to replace the emotion you weren’t allowed to express. For instance, my client grew up in a family where fear was a no, no. There was a lot of reason as a child to be scared. However, fear was not talked about in the family. Instead, people did anger. Interestingly, when this client is in a conflictous situation, that’s the first place they go. What they should be concentrating on is the authentic feeling underneath, which is usually fear or sadness. Anger over fear is traditionally seen in men. Sadness over anger is traditionally what we see in women. If you feed the racket feeling, you’ll never resolve the conflict, because it’s not the real feeling. It does not lead to the real need. At the third level; What emotion Am I feeling? Is that real or not real? Is it authentic? Or is it a racket feeling? What is the authentic feeling? What does that tell me about the need in that conflict?
The fourth level we look at in conflict resolution is focusing on the needs and wants underneath. Emotions are a great gateway into understanding the needs underneath. One way to talk about needs is just to sit down and say, “forget about the trash and who takes out the trash. What is the need I have in this relationship?”. Then, surprisingly, perhaps people will talk about it. “I need to feel that we’re both sharing the load. I need to feel that I’m not the only one thinking of the things that need to be done. I need to feel that you love me by the small things you also do in this household.”.
Talking about the needs underneath is important. The difficulty is if people are in the heat of the moment, it’s very difficult to talk about needs and to take them seriously. I used to live in Saudi Arabia, and we used to say, “never drink the tea while it’s hot!”. I don’t know where that actually comes from because drinking hot tea in a hot climate cools you down. But in a conflict that’s a handy saying because it’s very difficult to talk about needs and wants if the conflict is hot. If you’re still stuck on the trash, it’s hard to say, “I want to feel supported around here.”. Wait until it’s cooled down. Announce, “let’s talk about it later.”, then breathe, go out, whatever you need to do. Then come back and say, “. Let’s talk about….”. John Gottman says, “Your goal, if you love someone, is to help them realize their dreams.”. Not your dreams, their dreams.
The fifth level of conflict resolution, going down that ladder, is to talk about values and self-esteem. Often conflicts come from the fact that you’re confirming people’s view about themselves. Within transactional analysis we talk about life positions. There are four basic life positions. We say plus plus, that means I’m okay you’re okay, and we’re in a flow together. Probably you won’t have conflict if you’re in that position. We talk about plus minus, I’m a little bit more okay than you are. George Orwell said some animals are more equal than others. If you do a conflict from that position, I’m a little bit more okay, then the other person will feel less okay. Obviously, if that’s their basic life position, it’s painful to confirm that in a conflict. What’s underneath this is, “you’re the one who puts out the trash because I think I’m a bit more okay than you are.”. We also talk about minus plus, I’m a bit less okay. Then minus minus is very bad because you get extremely bad conflicts. In that way, you say, I’m not okay and you’re not okay. If you take it seriously that in a relationship your intention is to help your partner fulfill their dreams, then an interesting conversation to have is, “how does this conflict confirm your life position?”.
At best in a partnership, a relationship, any form of relationship, that you help each other become your best self. What people mean by that is to stay in plus plus. A conversation about how we can stay in that plus plus position, you’re okay I’m okay and we’re okay together, is a good conversation to have. After the tea has cooled down and you’ve talked about values, about needs and wants. It’s ok to talk about, “I’m confirming my old vision of myself. That’s not okay. I’m putting it on you. I’m enticing you to start this conflict with me, so that I confirm this old version of myself.”. That also makes who you have a conflict with less personal. In fact conflicts feel extremely personal, but you’re just picking people who will confirm your old life story. Not what does it say about you, but what does it say about me? For instance, if I do anger over fear, I get other people pissed off and I don’t get the help and support I need because I’m actually feeling scared. It confirms a minus plus position. It’s good to have a partner, in whatever shape or form, who can help me overcome that old stuff. It takes a lot of heart to have a conversation like that, but it’s very, very important. If you can be your best self together, that’s a fantastic partnership to have.
That brings us straight to the last level of conflict resolution. Every conflict tells you something about something that’s unresolved from your past. At worst, you’re just replaying scenarios that have been unresolved from your past. As I was saying, this fear over anger, not getting the support, minus plus position, is not something that’s relevant in my life today. However, it was relevant when I was a kid. That’s how I felt. At the deepest level of conflict resolution, if you want to have that conversation with the person you’re with, it’s good to talk about how you felt as a kid, what emotions came up, what kind of conflict you replay this in. Maybe together you can find some kind of stop word, gesture, joke, or a symbol that you can exchange with each other. Even saying, “we’re going there again.”. Just stop whatever you’re doing, go and make some tea, have a walk outside, come back and talk about, “that nearly was something that I remember from my past.”. Then have a conversation about, “what did I contribute to this conflict? What kind of relationship do I want with you? What do we need to agree to avoid this kind of situation in future?”. That will deepen your relationship. You won’t be talking about who puts out the trash, you will be talking about, “I did it again. I need some help here.”. I wish you a relationship like that. You’ll possibly never become completely conflict free, but your conflict will be the doorway, not to your past, but to your future.