Once you find yourself in a conflicted situation with someone else, it is important to reduce the emotional charge from the situation so that you and the other person can deal with your differences on a rational level in resolving the conflict.
Defusing The Situation:
The other person might be angry and may come to the situation armed with a number of arguments describing how you are to blame for his or her unhappiness. Your goal is to address the other’s anger – and you do this by simply agreeing with the person. When you find some truth in the other point of view, it is difficult for the other person to maintain anger. For example, “I know that I said I would call you last night. You are absolutely right. I wish I could be more responsible sometimes.” The accusation might be completely unreasonable from your viewpoint, but there is always some truth in what the other person says. At the very least, we need to acknowledge that individuals have different ways of seeing things. This does not mean that we have to compromise our own basic principles. We simply validate the other’s stance so that we can move on to a healthier resolution of the conflict. This may be hard to do in a volatile situation, but a sign of individual strength and integrity is the ability to postpone our immediate reactions in order to achieve positive goals. Sometimes we have to “lose” in order, ultimately, to “win.”
Try to put yourself into the shoes of the other person. See the world through their eyes. Empathy is an important listening technique which gives the other feedback that he or she is being heard. There are two forms of empathy. Thought Empathy gives the message that you understand what the other is trying to say. You can do this in conversation by paraphrasing the words of the other person. For example, “I understand you to say that your trust in me has been broken.” Feeling Empathy is your acknowledgment of how the other person probably feels. It is important never to attribute emotions which may not exist for the other person (such as, “You’re confused with all your emotional upheaval right now”), but rather to indicate your perception of how the person must be feeling. For example, “I guess you probably feel pretty mad at me right now.”
Ask gentle, probing questions about what the other person is thinking and feeling. Encourage the other to talk fully about what is on his or her mind. For example, “Are there any other thoughts that you need to share with me?”
Using “I” Statements:
Take responsibility for your own thoughts rather than attributing motives to the other person. This decreases the chance that the other person will become defensive. For example, “I feel pretty upset that this thing has come between us.” This statement is much more effective than saying, “You have made me feel very upset.”
Find positive things to say about the other person, even if the other is angry with you. Show a respectful attitude. For example, “I genuinely respect you for having the courage to bring this problem to me. I admire your strength and your caring attitude.”
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D.,LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.