Words of Wellness

February 23, 2011 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner

Maintaining Healthy Relationships in the Midst of Conflict

†† † †With the recent intensity of political debate here in the state of Wisconsin, people are getting plenty of opportunity to practice their conflict resolution skills.† Family members, friends and colleagues who find themselves on opposite ends of the political spectrum are finding their relationships challenged as emotions are boiling over and the language on both sides gets more inflammatory.† This seems like a good time to share a few ideas about how to manage and/or resolve conflict so that healthy relationships can be maintained and maybe even strengthened in the midst of conflict. †

†† † I write from two perspectives, as a marriage and family therapist and as an Episcopal priest.† As a therapist, I help couples and families resolve conflict every day.† As a pastor, I rejoice in the fact that every church congregation I know of is made up people who represent the full range of conservative to liberal political views.† This means that those of us in the church have learned from experience about the importance of working together in a respectful manner that honors our differences, while at the same time remembering that there is much that unites us in terms of beliefs, purpose and core values. †

†† † So from these two perspectives, I offer a few tips on conflict resolution that will help you maintain healthy connections with others, even in the midst of conflict.† This list is by no means intended to be complete.

  • Listen.† LIsten.† Listen.† Few people make the mistake of listening too much, especially in the midst of conflict.† Listen to the position of the other person until you understand it so well that you can articulate it just as clearly as your own.† Somehow people have confused compassionate listening and understanding with agreeing.† They are not the same.† Mutual listening and understanding are foundational to conflict resolution, and if through your listening you find your position changing somewhat, this is not a sign of weakness!! †

  • Understand the narrative that has given rise to the other personís position.† All positions, all view points, are embedded in a life narrative that has been formed and informed by important people, places, experiences, core values and beliefs unique to that person. † Knowing all of this will help you understand the emotions that the person connects with their position.† At the same time, be aware of your own narrative, your own life experiences that have formed and shaped your positions and view points. †

  • Remember that the problem is the problem, and donít make the person the problem.† Avoid inflammatory language and always avoid demonizing the other person.† † Never resort to name calling or degrading language. Be respectful at all times. †

  • Practice humility.† Articulate your perspective strongly, but know that in any complex matter, there are intelligent, ethical, well-meaning people who see things differently than you do. †

  • Affirm what unites you, and donít merely focus on what divides you.† There are often higher ideals that both sides agree on, even though they strongly disagree on the best way to enact those ideals.† Always look for genuine ways you can ďmeet in the middleĒ and when you cannot, then respectfully agree to disagree. †

†† † If we keep these ideas in mind, we will find that we can maintain strong relationships even in the midst of conflict.† Times of conflict, believe it or not, can even strengthen a relationship because during such times we show our deepest passions and what it is that truly defines us, and through that process we may come to know one another more fully.† There is a vulnerability when we reveal our deepest passions and ideals to† one another and this has the potential to deepen relationships.† If we can do this with respect, integrity and compassion, we will find that we can maintain healthy relationships, even in the midst of conflict. †

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