Whenever I conduct a training on conflict resolution and de-escalation I’m invariably asked two questions, “Do you use this stuff in your own life?” and “Does conflict resolution work for you in all your relationships?” The answer to the first question is simple. Yes, absolutely! I use this in my life and find great success with it. When in conflict with a loved one or colleague, I often use uniting statements, reflective listening, and express myself in neutral terms so that the other party is more willing to work through the problem with me than if I behaved aggressively or avoided the conflict all together.
However, the answer to the second question is a bit more complex. Does conflict resolution work for me in all my relationships? Well, no and yes. The no is obvious. Just take a close look at my life and you’ll see that conflict resolution has most definitely not always worked. I’ve severed several relationships over the years due to miscommunication, a conflict of values, or a critical incident that was just too damaging to repair. I’m not naïve enough to take all the blame for these failed relationships, but I certainly did my share of steering the ship into the rocks.
I use the term “naïve” because I think it’s foolish for anyone to take full blame for every relationship that went south. We just don’t have that kind of control in our lives. We can’t command the responses of others (especially when others bring their own set of biases and underlying fears). Sometimes a relationship just wears itself out when two parties find themselves on divergent paths. But it’s not those relationships I have in mind when I answer ‘no’ to the second question.
I’m thinking more about those relationships that cost us dearly. The ones that leave us with a familiar ache when a name is mentioned or an old song is played. It’s those relationships that ended without closure or mutuality of understanding that test my faith in conflict resolution. But then I have to remind myself that conflict resolution isn’t always about having dialogue with the other person. Sometimes it’s about the dialogues we have with ourselves. It’s about reframing the negative stories cluttering our heads. Seeing oneself as survivor, rather than victim, or the other as wounded rather than villain. Sometimes conflict resolution isn’t about talking at all. Often it’s a prayer, a meditation, or the simple practice of “letting go.” Conflict resolution is about finding peace, and making peace with our past…and ultimately, with ourselves.
I welcome your thoughts on this if you have anything to add.