Relationships, Part 38: Constructive Conflict: Start with the Easy Stuff

Guns blazing

I like to start blog posts the same way people start conversations they know are going to be difficult. I like to get your attention at the very beginning by saying something outrageous or challenging. It’s a good way to write a blog post, but, if you are starting hard conversations this way, you’re doing it wrong. [1]

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do make you feel bad. [2]   I’m glad you’re here. [3]   I’m happy to be writing these articles and actually have people who want to read them.  [4]  You may have even enjoyed these and learned a thing or two. I know I have. [5]   Often I don’t understand anything until I try to explain it to others. [6]

I think we can all agree that having a conflict with a person we love is fraught with difficulty. [7]  I [8]  attempt to avoid conflicts when I can. The result is that, when I can’t avoid them, I may not know how to make a difficult conversation constructive. [9]   I think we can also agree that some ways of starting those hard conversations work better than others. Coming in with guns blazing [10]  gets me on the defensive. Does it do that for you, too? [11]

When you want [12]  to have a conversation with me that might not go well and you begin by thanking me for my contribution, I can be more open-minded and we can resolve things without an argument. [13]  When we begin by reviewing the things we already agree on, I feel I have something invested in a positive outcome. [14]  I begin to see you as a colleague and not an opponent. When we work towards agreement on the easier stuff first, I am encouraged. It puts me in the right frame of mind to behave in a cooperative manner. [15]

Do you agree?

[1] This is a good example of a hard start. Something you should avoid doing when initiating a conversation with your partner. Discussions end on the same note they begin. If you start an argument harshly by attacking your partner, you will end up with at least as much tension as you began with, if not more.

[2] Now I’m going to try to show you how to start soft.

[3] Be polite

[4] Express appreciation

[5] … and gratitude

[6] Allow yourself to be vulnerable.

[7] Begin with something you all can easily agree on.

[8] This is an I statement. I am describing my own self. If I used the pronoun, you, you might object to that characterization and stop listening.

[9] Describe, don’t judge.

[10] “Guns blazing” might be a value-loaded way of describing, but I like the image.

[11] Check to see if your partner is still with you.

[12] Here, I switch to “you” and try to describe clearly what I need

[13] Observe the form: “If you… then I can… and we…”

[14] I’m being specific.

[15] Make one point at a time. Don’t store things up and blast them with everything at once.

Click here to go to the entire Relationships series.

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