"There are some people who always seem angry and continuously look for conflict. Walk away; the battle they are fighting is not with you, it is with themselves." -Unknown
In my experience as a counselor, something I hear almost hourly this time of year is that people are expecting to have some kind of conflict with someone they will see during the holidays. Whether it is a close relative or someone they only have to deal with every once in a while, holiday conflict a concern for many people I talk with between October and January. With that in mind, I thought it would be prudent to talk about conflict today and some ways to manage potential conflicts over the holidays.
Any counselor out there will tell you a conflict can range anywhere from a tiny peaceful disagreement over something unimportant all the way up to a full-on violent, physical altercation resulting in injury, incarceration or death for one or both of the participants. Conflicts can escalate quickly, particularly if someone has had a traumatic event happen in their past or if one or both of the people involved are using drugs or alcohol.
The top four skills I teach people for managing conflict include assertive communication, active listening, avoiding "the bait" and taking time outs. I would love to go into more detail about all of them, but today I have chosen to focus on a form of assertive communication called "I-statements." You've probably heard lots of jokes on TV and in the movies about "I-statements," particularly in the context of romantic comedies. I-statements are an effective strategy to help reduce tension, hostility and conflict, if used correctly.
I statements are effective because they follow a predictable format, one that can be memorized and recited if needed. This can help in a difficult situation since you don't need to try to figure out what to say from scratch. You can memorize it before-hand. The script is simple:
I feel ____(1)
and I want/prefer___(4).
If you don't, I will____(5).
1. First, identify the feeling. Are you sad, angry, scared or something else?
2. What happened that elicited the feeling?
3. Why does this happen to you? Can you explain it in a way that makes sense to the other person?
4. What do you want the other person to do instead of what happened that will help you feel better?
5. What will you do (that you actually WILL do, not just threaten to do) if the upsetting behavior continues?
So an example of what I could say if my roommate won't wash her dishes after I cook on Sunday could be:
"I feel frustrated (1) when you leave a sink full of dishes when I cook (2) because it is important to me to have a clean kitchen and when the dishpan after I cook I get mad(3). I want to be able to take turns doing the dishes each day so they are always done by bedtime and the person who cooks doesn't have to washes the dishes after cooking(4). If you won't help me with this, then I won't cook dinner as much anymore."
Some super important tips:
#1) Don't use this script if you are still upset. Take a time out and find a way to relax in a healthy way first before you try to address the problem. Make sure the other person is calm, too. Sometimes it can help to write it out first before you say it.
#2) Don't make empty threats you can't keep because you are upset. Doing this teaches the other person you don't mean what you say.
#3) Pay attention to your non-verbal communication when you use the script. Your body language can communicate more than the words you actually say. If you roll your eyes or use a patronizing tone of voice, the other person will probably not respond well.
I-statements are just one of MANY skills you can learn and use for managing conflict in your life and over the holiday season. If you'd like to learn more about conflict resolution or if you have any questions about my writing or the services I offer, please call me at 330-451-6306 for your free 15 minute phone consultation. You may also send me a confidential email by going to the following webpage: https://firstname.lastname@example.org and entering in your message. You can also visit my website (if that's not where you are reading this) at http://recoveryworksllc.net for more information about me and the services I offer. If you are in crisis, please contact the Coleman Crisis Center in Canton, Ohio at 330-452-6000 for immediate help or the national crisis line at 1-800-275-TALK (8255). You can also text the Ohio Crisis Line by sending "4 hope" to 741-741 or go to the nearest emergency department for immediate assistance.
Until next time, stay well!