Mediators Post

4 steps to dealing with interpersonal conflict

Gandha Sahu

Author’s name: Gandha Sahu

Profile: Lawyer and Mediator

Location: Pune

Dated 03rd June, 2020

Tina was reading a book in her room when her brother Tony tagged her on a video on Facebook. In the video, Tony was distributing some fruits to many migrant children. Tina storms out of her room furious and finds Tony chatting with their parents.

Tina walks up to him and yells, “How can you be so stupid? Why did you put up that video on Facebook? It is cheap to seek attention at such terrible times. Take the video down immediately.”

Tony is taken aback by Tina’s words and walks away. After some time he deletes the video. Tina wins. Tina is happy that Tony has deleted the video, but there is an awkward silence between them.

Seemingly simple and harmless disagreements like these may have a deep and long-term impact on our relationships. One can go through tremendous internal conflict when one feels misunderstood, judged or ignored. This is even more so when the judgement comes from those we consider close to us.

A few minor changes in how we approach our disagreements could help us build better relationships and develop our support system. Interpersonal conflict management skill is critical to the health of our relationships and our emotional wellbeing.

Engaging with conflict is an act of courage because it begins with introspection. Conflict always begins in your mind. To resolve an interpersonal conflict, we first need to have a clear understanding of what is going on within us. This includes an analysis of the facts, our feelings, our opinions and our core values. Many times we are not clear about why we are feeling angry, hurt or humiliated. To understand what is causing this feeling is the first step to resolving interpersonal conflict.

1. Introspect

Introspect intending to recognise your core values and your own emotions. Our core values are our fundamental beliefs, those that we incorporate through our experiences with family, religion, work and education. These are like pillars upon which we build our life. Knowing your values allows you to understand what is important to you as an individual. People describe their core values to include honesty, compassion, respect, commitment, generosity and so forth.

All emotions are important and deserve to be acknowledged and seen. Be it anger, insult, humiliation, shame, guilt, respect, love, joy. They will help you introspect and manage your conflicts better. Conflicts trigger powerful emotions. If you are not comfortable with your emotions or able to manage them in times of stress, you may not able to resolve conflict successfully.

2. Set your boundaries.

Once you recognise your core values, you must explore what triggers you. You can decide what you will tolerate and why. These are the limits you can set to create a healthy sense of identity and personal space within personal and professional relationships.

For example, one of your core values is respect for time. You get triggered if people fail to respect your time. This is a boundary. If you see that Riya takes your time for granted it will irritate you and if the behaviour continues, it will make you angry. The most common way of reacting to this is to tell Riya that “you are always late”. But if you recognise your trigger, you will communicate to Riya that when she comes late, it makes you angry because you feel she disrespects you. This way you are stating a fact as you see it and not judging Riya’s intention.

3. Gather information

Once the internal work is done, it is easier to address the external conflict. Start with curiosity. Ask more questions, listen deeply not to prove who is wrong, but to truly understand what is right. Have the courage to let go of your desire to be right. Understand and respect the boundaries of others, it is impossible to have the same beliefs, values and experiences even if you belong to the same family. Each individual is unique. One can only live harmoniously if one recognises and respects the values of others while protecting your boundaries.

4. Communicate

Communicate clearly, respectfully and assertively. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Expressing yourself and listening deeply to understand another is the key to managing conflict.

In the words of Brene Brown, “People are hard to hate to close up. Move-in.”

Let us see how Tina would manage her disagreement if she were to incorporate these principles into her confrontation with Tony and her conversation could go several ways, here are two examples

Tina was reading a book in her room when her brother Tony tagged her on a video on Facebook. In the video, Tony was distributing some fruits to many migrant children.

Tina observes that the video has triggered her anger. She calms down and introspects why it is making her angry. She feels the video violates the privacy of the migrant children, uses their plight for publicity, which is not in line with her core value of “Integrity”. She decides to discuss this with Tony and see how he feels about it.

She comes out of her room to find Tony is chatting with their parents. Tina joins them and asks Tony how his day went.

Tony explains that when he was driving down the highway in the morning, he saw a large number of migrants walking towards their village. They looked hungry and in distress and he felt he should offer them some refreshments. They were a large number, and the magnitude of the task overwhelmed him. He called a few friends to ask for help. All of them refused to believe him.

Tony said he felt helpless and misunderstood by his friends and decided that he will do whatever he can. He goes on to say that he made a video to post on Facebook so that his friends would know that he was not lying. He was feeling overwhelmed and lonely while he was posting the video and decided to tag his family for support.”

Tina listens to Tony empathetically and is deeply moved by Tony’s intention. She understands how Tony is feeling, but she is still uncomfortable with the video.

She decides to talk about her feelings. “I am proud of how you handled it, Tony. But I am concerned about the privacy of the children in the video. Such content can exist on the internet forever and it is not very respectful to have it out there. You think we could edit it to protect their identity?”

Tony instantly agrees, “ That’s a brilliant idea. I could blur my face out too. I don’t want the attention to shift to me. All I want is for people to get motivated to do whatever they can in this hour of crisis.”

Tina and Tony sit together and edit the video. Both feel understood, supported and connected.

The difference between the two confrontations is that in the first confrontation, Tina was not respectful to Tony. She judged him before understanding the facts from his perspective. This behaviour was inconsistent with Tina’s core values and she was not at peace with her victory.

The lockdown is a strange time. It has trapped us in a routine, with a set of people. We are dealing with all kinds of uncertainties and our stress levels are rising. This is the time we need the love and support of the people we care about. Disagreements will arise, let us use them as stepping stones to stronger bonds and better families.

(This article was first published on News Mania Weekly dated May 29, 2020.)

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Capt Tarique Khan

Nice one Gandha madam. Looking forward to more such insights.

Pankaj Kumar

Thank you for writing such a nice article.

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