I started this week with a post about Avoiding Apology Fails. That might seem like a strange way to start February, when we typically shift our focus to Valentine’s Day and romance. But this is no typical February. After nearly a year of social distancing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, even those of us with mutually loving and supportive relationships seem to be having more moments of frustration or tension. Make Choices #1 and #3 of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process: Forgive yourself and the world for having conflicts. Let’s put our energy into creating the experiences we want in our relationships, regardless of the challenges that arise.
Q: What strategies can I use to win any kind of dispute?
I gasped to myself when I first saw this question. Generally, when people in conflict focus on winning, they will miss the opportunities for what they really want.
Most people want connection and mutually loving, supportive partnerships more than “winning”. We tend to want the other person to voluntarily give us what we need. We don’t truly want the other person to concede because we’ve manipulated or forced them.
In the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, we first succinctly define the conflict as “[Name] disagrees with [Name] about [dispute]”. Then, we start to explore the beliefs, wants, needs, and unmet expectations that led to the dispute. It’s not always easy to see what a win would look like under the circumstances. This isn’t a basketball game; there’s no score. When a score is kept and forced on one or both parties, it will probably add to the dispute. Instead, here are some strategies for resolving disputes and strengthening your relationships:
- Don’t demonize the other party or make this a zero-sum game. Not only is this unfair to the other party (who is just as human and fallible as you are), it can set you up for a lot of disappointment and self-punishment.
- Be inquisitive and resolution-focused, rather than win-focused. If you focus on the problem, rather than the perceived character of the people involved, you will probably reduce the emotional charges that are clouding your ability to create solutions.
- Consider that you and the person you are in conflict with might have different definitions of winning that can be reconciled for a win-win-win+. There might be more possibilities than you are seeing, especially when you are emotionally-charged.
Q: How do I pick up an argument where we left off?
Admittedly, I am disturbed by the series of questions I’ve gotten about winning arguments and picking up where they left off, which also suggests a desire to “win”. Although I focus my conflict resolution business on workplace disputes, the same techniques can be applied at home. My book helps DIYers implement the same processes I use with my clients. Here’s what I would likely recommend to them:
- Before trying to bring up the topic again, make the Seven Choices and ground yourself more firmly in what matters most to you. These choices include forgiving yourself, freeing the emotions, and considering the hurts the other person is experiencing.
- If you were the one who ended the discussion, apologize for not managing your frustration more effectively. Give a complete apology by being specific, sharing what you will do in the future to avoid a similar impact, and do what you say you will do. Then, ask if you can pick up where you left off but in a more productive way.
- If the other person was the one who stormed out, share authentically how that made you feel but without blaming the other person for getting so angry and without dismissing their anger. Then, tell what you want for your relationship and ask how the two of you might be able to create that. Be open to exploring a full range of options. Don’t think you have the answer and focus on selling it.
- Listen for the hurts you can heal, rather than evidence that you were right or that they were wrong. This isn’t a competition. The goal is to have both of you win in some way, which requires you to listen for what the other person really wants and what matters most.
- Prepare, but for a discussion, not a sales pitch. The conversation will guide you to the solutions when you are having an authentic conversation based on the moment you are in. Focus on the present and the future, not dismissing the past, but gently and kindly redirecting the conversation to what you can change—together.
- Keep thinking about teamwork and partnership. How can you assist each other in meeting the goals for the relationship, project, etc.—including the resolution of this dispute?
- Notice your use of past-tense verbs. When you hear them come from your mouth, stop. You are rehashing something you can’t change. Re-focus on the present and future by explaining that the past is bothering you more than you would like. Ask for more time to work through it before you continue the discussion, set a date and time to check in, and work back through the Seven Choices.
Q: How can I stop loving someone who doesn’t love me?
I had an emotional response to your inquiry. Like most people, I have been there. I have family members who demonize me when they can’t control me, others who are unpredictable in our relationships, and many ex-boyfriends I continued to pine for long after we stopped dating. I have also seen this in many clients, who struggle with abandonment and self-worth issues. What I’ve learned and coach my clients to do is “love from afar”.
Sometimes, it’s not healthy or safe to be close to people. They abuse us emotionally, financially, physically, and sexually. They manipulate us for their own gain or neglect us and dismiss our needs. We don’t have to stop loving them, but we might need to move far away from them and limit our contact.
I’m not a fan of cutting off love, and I think a lot of people confuse love with attachment. Love is unconditional. We give it, regardless of whether someone is loving us back, and we can give it to others at the same time. This does not necessarily mean sex, of course, which is also different from love, even if mainstream media, including television and movies often collapse them.
In short, don’t stop loving, but do stop investing time and energy in relationships that aren’t mutually loving and supportive. Put that where you get it back, before you are depleted and start believing you don’t deserve love. You do.
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Nance L. Schick, Esq., is a workplace attorney, ethno-religious mediator, and conflict resolution coach based in New York City. Her goal is to keep managers and small business owners out of court and build their conflict resolution skills so everyone has a better work experience. She is creator of the Third Ear Conflict Resolution process, author of DIY Conflict Resolution, and an award-winning entrepreneur acknowledged by Super Lawyers (ADR, 2018, 2019 & 2020), the New York Economic Development Corporation/B-Labs (Finalist, Best for NYC 2015 & 2016), U.S. Chamber of Commerce (2015 Blue Ribbon Small Business), Enterprising Women Magazine (Honorable Mention, 2014 Woman of the Year awards).