A 15-step method that will help your family communicate.

Dealing with Conflict

Tired of yelling, arguing, slamming doors? Had enough snapping, sarcasm, and angry retorts? Discouraged because nothing gets settled? Afraid someone will get hurt? Depressed by silence, avoidance, lack of intimacy, and resentment?

It doesn't have to be this way. You can change your family's well-worn patterns of dealing with conflict, and you can teach your child a better way.

The Thinking Steps

Step 1. Assess emotions.

Anger is a signal to resolve a problem. Learn to recognize anger quickly, label it properly, and distinguish it from other emotions, realizing that several emotions often coexist.

Step 2. Accept anger, behave well.

Tell yourself, "Anger is okay; it's how I handle it that counts." Separate feeling anger from acting out anger such as by hitting, yelling, or saying hurtful things. No one should be punished or feel guilty for feeling anger; however, you should control aggressive or hurtful behavior.

Step 3. Gauge intensity.

Rate the intensity of your emotion on a scale of 1 to 10. Very low levels of anger may be ignored, while very high levels of anger must be reduced before a good resolution talk is likely. In the mid range, it's okay to proceed with the conflict resolution process.

Step 4. Who and what?

Sometimes people get angry or in a "bad mood" and flail out at the nearest bystander (displacement) or complain about the wrong issue. Instead, learn to recognize what the real problem is and who is involved.

Step 5. Perspective check.

Are you overreacting? Underreacting? Learn to keep anger in proportion to provocation, recognize your own contribution to the conflict, and try to see the other person's point of view.

The Talk/Listen Steps

Step 6. Time and place.

Give resolution a chance by choosing the right time and place to bring up the conflict.

Step 7. Avoid coalitions.

Limit the conflict to the appropriate persons. Don't try to get uninvolved people to take sides. Conflict is almost never resolved when it's a team sport.

Step 8. Express appropriately.

Tell the other person in a reasonable tone and manner what you are angry or hurt about. Don't spoil your chances of a friendly resolution by hostile or inappropriate behavior. State the problem in a way that makes it a resolvable issue.

Step 9. Listen actively.

Repeat in your own words what the other person is telling you so you both know you truly understand his point of view. Expect him to do the same.

Step 10. Admit fault.

Acknowledge your part in the problem. Most problems are not all one person's fault. Admitting what you have done to contribute to the problem adds objectivity and helps gain the other person's cooperation.

The Solving Steps

Step 11. Brainstorm solutions.

Exchange ideas without judging them. Be creative. Consider ways to solve the problem without pointing out the flaws in anyone else's ideas.

Step 12. Pros and cons.

Decide which ideas have the most merit and assess the good and bad points of each.

Step 13. Decide and plan.

Choose the solution that has the best chance of working, that all sides buy into. Plan how to put it into action and how you will monitor it. Set a time to review its success.

Step 14. Do it.

Follow through. Make a sincere effort to do what you have agreed to do and remind the others in a constructive way to do their part of the plan. Keep track of progress.

Step 15. Review/revise.

Get together and talk about how well your plan has worked. What changes do you need to make? Celebrate success.

Excerpted with permission from Tired of Yelling: Teaching Our Children to Resolve Conflict, Pocket Books, 2000.

Copyright © 1999 by Lyndon D. Waugh, MD

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.

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