By Judith Lindenberger
The drama that often accompanies conflict is what gives conflict its bad name. Most of us veer away from screaming matches, stand offs and personal attacks.
But, conflict does have redeeming value… especially for those of us over 50. According to Barbara Strauch, author of The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain, we need to present our brains with things that make it wake up, pay attention, and work really hard. To give your brain a workout, Strauch suggests talking with people who disagree with you because it helps you sharpen your own thinking and challenges you. So having conflict in your life can actually make you smarter.
To benefit from benefits of conflict, and lose the drama, here is what I have learned about taking charge of conflict.
First and foremost, trust your instincts. If something feels wrong, it probably is. D. H. Lawrence, the author, wrote, “My beliefs I test on my body, on my intuitional consciousness, and when I get a response there, then I accept.” Have you ever walked into a meeting and known instantly that something was amiss because someone failed to look you in the eye? When that happens, it is a sure sign that the drama of conflict is about to ensue.
Second, remove yourself emotionally and do not take the situation personally. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your permission.” How you choose to respond is far more meaningful than what happens to you. Look at the conflict holistically and positively not negatively. Most conflict usually has to do with misinformation, a difference of values, or a difference of opinions. Some times, there may be a previous unresolved conflict between the parties. No matter what your situation, do you have a tough time keeping your cool? My advice is to take a deep breath and count to ten.
Third, when you’re in conflict with someone, stop and listen. Really deeply listen. Most people involved in a conflict have already decided on their own solution and fail to use conflict as an opportunity to learn all sides of an issue. Listen for grains of truth in what the other person has to say. Ask yourself: What is their point of view? Why is it important to them? What values and goals do we share?
Fourth, know the person with whom you have conflict. There is an old adage that says, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Study the person with whom you are having conflict. What is their communication style? Are they passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive or assertive? What is the best way for you to respond?
Fifth , be an eagle and soar above. Look at the situation from atop the peak. One technique you can try is to imagine yourself looking down on the room as if it were a Greek play about to unfold. Being dispassionate can help you orchestrate what you want to do next.
Sixth, decide what you want. This is important because every step you take needs to get you to your ultimate goal. Ask yourself, what is my number one goal? When I got married (more than 25 years ago), my mother gave me some advice. She said, “You can be right all the time or you can be married.” You may very well be right but getting others to admit you’re right may not get you where you want to be in the long run.
Seventh, think ahead. Conflict is the chess game of life. Strategize your every move. Determine what the person with whom you have conflict might do. Avoid surprise attacks. A famous chess player, when asked his strategy for success, said, “I always think through at least one more move than my opponent.”
Eighth, have alternative plans. Determine several responses you could make to the conflict. List the advantages and disadvantages of each option. Think about the long-term implications of each alternative. Answer the question: What solutions can I live with? What can’t I abide?
Ninth, move slowly but deliberately. Do not make assumptions. Check out the facts. Make decisions based on data, not on emotions. Don’t let anger control your actions.
Tenth, take time to reflect. Ask yourself, what have I learned from this conflict situation? What did the world gain? What did I do brilliantly? Am I proud of the way that I behaved? And, what might I still need to learn?
Judy served as Vice President of the Hopewell Valley Regional School District where her brain got a great workout.