When I’m driving I enjoy listening to audio books and this week I re-visited Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. It reminded me of the powerful lessons in communicating effectively especially when trying to resolve conflicts.
I’m sure you’ll agree that conflict in relationships is inevitable. Whether the conflict is with a spouse, a family member, a difficult relative, or a friend; relationship conflict, especially on-going conflict; can cause stress and negatively impact us in many ways. How it’s handled can bring people together or tear them apart. Poor communication skills, or disagreements and misunderstandings can be a source of anger and frustration and cause major stress. Healthy communication involves finding a resolution that both sides can be happy with, so I want to share Stephen Covey’s habits 4, 5 and 6 with you, as using all 3 together will enable you to successfully resolve relationship conflicts.
First you have to think win-win – habit 4. This is the philosophy of human interaction where it allows both parties to win. You need to be open and conciliatory in order to achieve this. But it also involves empathy and courage, consideration and bravery. Because of this, win-win may not always be possible in every circumstance so then work towards win-win or no deal. In other words, if we cannot agree this win-win deal, then we have no deal which means that we agree to disagree agreeably. Being able to do this comes from having a character of integrity and maturity.
Then you have to seek first to understand then to be understood – habit 5. This is the single most important principle in the field of interpersonal relations. To interact successfully with someone to influence them, you first need to understand them. To do this effectively you need to listen. Once a person feels understood they relax and their defences are opened. The natural tendency is for us to talk about our own experiences, but we need to listen within the frame of reference of the other person. Empathic listening involves really trying to understand the position of the other person fully and then feeding back to them what you’ve heard. This makes them feel validated and affirmed as a human being. In communicating with key people in your life (be it a spouse, child, boss, neighbour, etc.) always think win-win (habit 4 above). Here is what you say: (and I just love the wording of this!) “Let’s agree to communicate until we can find a solution we both feel good about. Would you be willing? You go first.” People will almost always say yes, so you first listen to the other person (seek to understand) and then you express your views (then to be understood).
And then finally you synergize – habit 6. This is the habit of creative co-operation. Be creative by thinking through new and better solutions. This happens when 2 people in a dispute use their creative capacities to come up with a solution together, better than either person came up with alone. Note that this is not the same as compromise.
“I want that window open.”
“I want it closed.”
And so ensues a battle of the ego’s. In thinking win-win (habit 4) the key is to communicate. Let me listen to you first (habit 5 above).
“Why is it you want the window closed?”
“The draught blows my papers around. Why is it you want it open?”
“I like the fresh air and it makes me feel claustrophobic with it closed.”
“What could we do to get the fresh air without the draught?”
“We could open the window in the next room.”
It’s a better solution, it’s not a compromise. What could we do to get what we both want? When you communicate with respect and creativity, you learn, gain insight and can then produce better solutions to problems and issues.
Next time you’re dealing with conflict, here are some more tips on effective communication skills that you can use to create a more positive outcome:
Stay Focused – Try not to bring up past hurts or other topics. Stay focused on the present issue and understanding one another to find a solution.
Listen and Hear – Instead of thinking about what you’re going to say next when the other person is talking, try to really listen without interrupting or getting defensive. Just hear them and reflect back what they’re saying so they know you’ve heard. You’ll understand them better and they’ll be more willing to listen to you.
See Their Point of View Too – In a conflict, we primarily want to feel heard and understood. So we talk a lot about our point of view, but if we do this there is little focus on the other person’s point of view, and in the end nobody feels understood. Try to really see the other side by asking questions and then you can explain your side.
It Takes Two – While criticism is hard to hear, it can hold valuable information for you. If you both share some responsibility, which is usually the case, admit yours. Besides diffusing the situation, it sets a good example, shows maturity and often inspires the other person to respond in kind, leading you both to a solution.
Use “I” instead of “You” – Begin statements with “I”, and make them about yourself and your feelings, for example: “I feel frustrated when this happens.” It’s less accusatory and helps the other person understand your point of view rather than feeling attacked.
Time-Out – If the discussion turns into an argument or a fight, take a break until you both feel calmer.
Don’t Give Up – If you both approach the situation with a constructive attitude, mutual respect, and a willingness to see the other person’s point of view or at least find a solution, you can make progress to resolve the conflict.