Healthy ways to deal with conflict

The Christmas holiday is certainly known as a time of peace and fellowship. Yet family issues do arise on occasion and even simple conversations in a world that suddenly seems more conflictive can turn to anger. Here are some helpful tips to make sure your holidays remain true to their tradition.

One apparent constant in the news lately is conflict. Countless stories tell of personal and group confrontations that have arisen over the recent national elections. We have even seen information about how families have been split over their views—or how social media have driven a wedge among friends.

There is certainly nothing wrong with political or other debate and a healthy sharing of opinion keeps democracies fresh, but are there healthy ways to deal with and manage confrontation, in a variety of situations including work or family life?

Absolutely, says Suzanne Dell, M.S., LPC, CJSOTS, a clinical director for Diakon Family Life Services.

Here are her suggestions:
•    Begin with a topic on which you both agree and start the communication or interaction there.
•    Take a breath, “push pause” for yourself and think a bit before you respond to the other person.
•    Initiate the interaction with something positive, then state the problem or issue, and end with another positive statement (in other words, “sandwich” the hard-to-hear phrase between two positive comments).
•    Use an “I” statement such as “I understand what you are saying, but I do feel differently….”
•    Recognize and acknowledge that understanding the other person’s point of view does not necessarily mean agreement with it—and, vice-versa … that understanding of you on the part of the other person does not mean he or she agrees with you either.
•    Keep your voice tone calm, even and slow-paced.
•    Use accepting and appropriate words.
•    Have a relaxed, open posture (no arm crossing; rather, keep hands open and relaxed and certainly refrain from finger-pointing or turning away).
•    Acknowledge that this is a tough, tense or awkward moment.
•    Give yourself time to get your thoughts together, and work to really listen to the other person.
•    Be willing to “share the floor,” and refrain from having to have the last word.
•    Recognize that if you are having an intense reaction to the other person’s statements, there may be more to the interaction than you realize. Acknowledge that most disagreements do not relate to issues of safety and therefore can wait to be addressed or discussed. Taking time to reflect will give you a chance to determine why the conversation is so distressing for you. Taking time also will help you to keep the situation in perspective.
•    If possible and appropriate, gain feedback from someone else you trust before proceeding with a difficult or confrontation conversation. Perhaps you do not need to confront the person or maybe you will discover another way to solve the problem.
•    Take care of yourself and respond to confrontation with consideration for others, while also staying true to your convictions.

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