Conflict and Communication

Conflict. Maybe some of you are cringing reading that word. It rarely brings positive feelings. Knowing how to communicate well through conflict is incredibly important for daily life when dealing with any type of relationship. I've read lots of books about it in preparing for marriage, and much of what I've read came up at pre-marital counseling last week. It was really good to have a chance to practice it. Our teachers provided us with an outline of how to communicate with any type of conflict, and I thought I would share that format with you. I deal with conflict and the need for communication in many settings--serving at church, dealing with students' parents, with my boss, with my family, etc. I think everyone needs to know how to do this well.

The most important thing is that each person takes turns going through this outline without interruption. When it's not your turn to talk, you give your full attention (multitasking is not okay) and ensure that your body language communicates interest.

1. Express thoughts. This step defines the problem. (Ex: I think the garage needs to be cleaned up and organized so we can use it to its full potential.)

2. Express feelings. This step names emotions evoked because of the problem. (Ex: I feel frustrated, stressed, and overwhelmed when I come home to a messy garage after a long day of work. I feel embarrassed when our neighbors see the mess when the garage is open.)

3. Explain wants. This step discusses what you want to happen with the problem. (Ex: I would really like for us to clean the garage so that I can feel relaxed when I come home, so you can find things on your work bench more easily, and so we can have a place to work out as a family.)

4. Discuss the plan. This step explains what has been done about the problem, what is being done about the problem, and what will be done about the problem. (Ex: In the past, the garage has just been ignored and things keep piling up. Currently, we are still not doing anything to fix it. In the future, I think we should plan a Saturday where our whole family works together to clean things up.)

After you have finished speaking, it is the other person's turn to respond to your thoughts, feelings, wants, and plan as well as to bring up your thoughts, feelings, wants, and plan suggestions while they listen attentively without interrupting. This is a very simple approach, and a not so emotional problem given as an example by our teachers. But it really works on all types of problems that arise, and it contains the four important elements that should be communicated in a conflict.

Overall, I think each of us wants to feel heard, understood, and validated in our thoughts and feelings. If we take care to give that to others by listening well with our undivided attention, then others are more likely to reciprocate that to us when it's our turn. We also need to remember that we're on the same team. Ultimately, the goal is to find the best solution to the problem. Sometimes that's what you suggested, other times it's what someone else suggested. Pray about it, and view it not as a fight against each other, but as a problem to tackle with your team.