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In order to manage conflict effectively, it is important to move from the feeling end of the “feeling—-thinking” spectrum, to the thinking end. To be clear, when I say managing conflict, I mean resolving the core issue with the needs of both parties taken into consideration. This is a skill which is challenging to most adults, let alone tweens whose brains are under reconstruction.
I have found the CALM method (credit to Friends for Life) very helpful in this regard.
C= Calm Down. Depending on the nature of the conflict, this may take a few minutes or a few days or even longer. Not only do you need to take time and space, but time and space need to be given to the other person, whose time frame may be different. Use their body language and facial expression to help gage when it may be time to talk.
A= Acknowledge Feelings. It’s OK to be mad, hurt, disappointed, betrayed or sad. It’s also OK for the other person to have intense feelings that you don’t like.
L= Listen. Steps to active listening:
- Let the other person share their point of view without any interruptions, even if you think they are completely out of line. Most of us just want to be heard, and so much of that is having the space to speak freely.
- You will likely hear something you don’t like. Just hear it.
- Make eye contact, positive body language (straight posture, leaning in, arms uncrossed, relaxed face)
- Once they have shared, reflect back/summarize what you have taken from their words. This shows that you were really listening–which is such a big part of all of our emotional needs.
- Share your point of view. Be brief, use ‘I feel’ rather than ‘you did’ as much as possible. Do not repeat yourself. Avoid emotional or overly descriptive language, which may be interpreted as rubbing the other person’s face in it.
M= Make a Plan. This will most likely involve compromise on both sides. Neither of you is likely to get everything you want. The goal is to make sure both of you can live with the resolution, and that basic needs (safety and respect) are met. Consider where you are willing to bend and if something is non-negotiable.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What if the other person isn’t willing to talk at all? You can’t control other people, so you may not be able to get them to work with you. Can you ask someone else intervene at this point, without making matters worse? Sometimes people feed on attention, and denying them that can speed up the desire to resolve. Is it time to cut your losses–can you realistically function without them in your life for now?
- What if the other person isn’t willing to compromise? Again, because we cannot control other people, this is quite possible. Asking a non-involved party to mediate may be necessary. Failing that, is it time to cut your losses–can you realistically function without them in your life for now?
- What if I can’t get past my own anger? You can’t effectively resolve a conflict until you are in a fairly neutral emotional state. That doesn’t mean there is no resentment or frustration, but you need to wait until you can think clearly and feel in control of your words and actions.
Once we go through what the steps are, we role play. Students, without using names, suggest situations they have experienced or witnessed, and we work through the steps together. It is hard work and takes a lot of practice. Practicing when they are not in the middle of a conflict is great because the more experience they get using the steps, the less difficult it will be when they are emotionally connected through conflict.
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- Post the steps somewhere in the house
- Make a game of role-playing random small and large conflicts with your kids
- Model the steps if you have a conflict with someone in the household