Preparing for life’s curveballs: conflict resolution

by Amy Weitzel

Baseball season is here. CMU is underway with Chris Hanks and crew already starting another winning season for the Mavs. I’ve never played baseball myself (I’m more of a basketball and volleyball sort of girl), but I always get a little nervous when the player steps up to the plate, digs his cleats in, takes his stance and gets ready for the pitch.

Conflict is a little like that. You know the pitch is coming, but you’re not quite sure what it’s going to look like and if you’re going to be able to handle it.

Conflict is never fun. But conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing and, if handled right, can actually strengthen relationships in the long run. The key phrase here is “if handled right.”

I hate to sound cliché, but it all begins with communication. The power of dialogue goes along with creating shared meaning between people. Dialogue brings together feelings, thoughts, ideas and opinions which build honesty, openness, and trust – the foundation of any relationship.

Here are a few hints to having important relationship building conversations both professionally and personally:

  1. Get face-to-face if possible: In today’s society, texting and emailing has gotten in the way of building open communication. It’s become too easy to hide behind a phone, tablet or computer and type away without looking into someone’s eyes and openly share your emotions. Even talking on the phone is a better substitute than pounding out responses though still not the best solution. Whenever you can, it’s important to get face-to-face with someone. Body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions are important communicators when having an important conversation.
  2. Decide on your goal: What are you trying to accomplish? You’ve got to have a winning mentality in the game of baseball, but it’s not healthy in relationships. Ask yourself, “What do I really want?” you’ll find yourself ditching the unhealthy objectives in conflict and discovering healthy alternatives. It allows you to move into higher-level and more complex thinking, allowing yourself to be more vulnerable to talk and be more open to listening.
  3. Pay attention: Make sure that the dialogue is staying open and that everyone involved in the conversation is safe. Signs the other person is not feeling safe includes changes in body language such as crossed arms or physically turning away; sarcasm; crying; walking away or verbally saying they don’t feel safe. Ask how you can help make the conversation return to a place of safety. It may require returning to the conversation at another time. Always enter a conversation from a place of genuine concern and respect for the other person to create a place of safety.
  4. Be honest: Being honest is the only way to create a place of trust. Make sure you state your truth but in a way that leaves room for dialogue. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open can be challenging. When you open your heart to others, you are doing so in faith they won’t hurt you – it’s always a risk. Sometimes you get hurt, but I have found that the benefits far outweigh the risk.
  5. Listen up: Listen to the stories of others — there is a reason people do what they do and many times actions are born from past pain. By giving others the benefit of the doubt and allowing them to express themselves, you learn a lot about them and come to a place of understanding. Often, misunderstandings can be fixed just by listening to the other person. People just want to be heard.
  6. Move forward: Take the lessons learned and put them to practice. In business settings, create protocols if necessary to make sure misunderstandings don’t happen in the future. In personal relationships, work to make sure your relationships stay a priority by improving communication and meeting the expectations of the other by turning lessons into habits.

Learning to communicate well – especially during times of conflict — is a lot like baseball. It takes practice. Even then, you might step up to the plate and strike out. Just remember, you’ll step up to the plate again, and there’s always another chance of hitting a home run.

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