Thursday, August 06, 2009

Conflict Resolution Skills For Adults Acting Badly

It has been a summer of adults getting themselves into trouble verbally or socially. And no, I’m not necessarily talking about Crowley, Gates or Obama. Here is the deal. I became angry with myself. In one social situation where you would think I’d blow a gasket I was calm and rational. In another situation two days later I acted in anger at the mention of two words.

Two freaking words that I have heard for years. Never had an effect on me before that moment. No, that is not true. The words irritated me but I rationalized it away. Then kaboom!  It concerned me a whole lot. There were people that I wanted to introduce myself to that I could no longer do so because I went off. 

Let me tell you something. As much as well all try to be on our best public behavior sometimes you muck it up. Ask those three guys, who hopefully will have more than a beer, about how ego, time, space and communication misunderstandings can trip you up.

A 2007 post from Margaret Mason at 43 Folders is referencing the book The Four Agreements, which I have not read, so I’m taking what she is presenting at face value.

Words have immeasurable power, so use them with care. Say only what you mean, and remember your opinion isn’t fact. Silence is better than saying something you’ll regret.

Well, I blew that one straight off but I’ll try to remember that for the next time I’m in churn mode. Knowing better can help but it isn’t an automatic balm to ensure human perfection. That is the thing, we are not always perfect but there are troops read to jump down your throat if you don’t act the way that they expect you to. You can’t. Not all of the time.

I really wish there was a public space that would allow people to see the spectrum of a person life instead of focusing on the surface. When I read comments about race, police, politics or validation of points of view is like swimming with piranha; ready to gum you to death at the first drop of blood. 

In case you didn’t know there are a bunch of immature people on the planet. Sometimes that maturity is fluid and mistakes happen. Sometimes folks are stuck on juvenile stupid for life. So what do we do? Instead of shaming someone back to the tenth generation? 

According to Dr. Margaret Paul, we are to keep our hearts open and make the choice of engagement or disengagement.

Carolyn at The Grown-Up talks about how she learned to shun others as a technique of conflict resolution. There are times when I have acted in similar ways when I have felt there was no other alternative.

And it does seem to be such a powerful thing, doesn’t it?  Taking your knife edged sword and severing the threads of a relationship.  To me it brings images of someone standing on one side of a rope bridge cutting the bonds one by one while the other on the bridge is forced to run for the safety of land. The swordsman turning their back on the chasm between them and appearing not to care as the other person aches to connect.

I agree with her, it should be used as a last resort. There are some people that you really do have to cut all contact with but that should be at the end of all other options. The reality is that most of the time you will have to interact with the person or persons that is causing you grief.

Tammi Lenski at Conflict Zen writes about how to control and manage your personal hot buttons. There is a passage in her post that I keep working my way through my issues:

Your hot buttons trip you up in conflict because they cause you to misinterpret, close down, lash out or take a side trip down the blame road. They also trigger a set of emotional responses that can escalate the conflict. When you’re triggered, your brain may experience what’s called a “neural hijacking.” The brain perceives a threat, proclaims an emergency and moves into action. This hijacking occurs so quickly that the conscious, thinking portion of the brain does not yet fully comprehend what’s happening.

It was true, I heard those two trigger words and my anger jumped over my normal internal breaking system. There was a jailbreak dash for my mouth. Tammy explains skills that can be used to keep trouble from slipping out inappropriately.

I’m spending the rest of my free time hanging out at the University of Colorado at Boulder – Conflict Resolution Information Source There is a tremendous amount of information at this site. I could spend three week highlighting resources.  I’m printing out post by Heidi Burgess post on Active Listening, Anger Management and De-Escalation.

I also will read and review How to Resolve Conflict from Chris Witt. He list ten steps that can help resolve disputes with most people. There is also a list of resolution techniques at Pick The Brain.

I’ll also dig into my pile of self help books, videos and maybe buy myself a Zune or iPod. Ok, the Zune or iPod does not help with conflict resolution but it would make me feel better. Ok, not really but I would get to practice conflict resolution with my inner skinflint. It is all about listening, validation and searching for best solution or resolution of the problem.

Gena Haskett is a Contributing Editor at BlogHer where this post originally appeared.


  1. My hot buttons are being treated as if I am stupid or being ganged up on. Either one can make me lose my composure (to put it mildly).

    My usual method of coping is to withdraw. Not healthy, and I'm learning as I continue to grow.

  2. Wish I could learn to withdraw. Working my way to a state of listening detachment. The road is looong. It is a journey.