Posts Tagged: conflict

How to Have a Better Argument

Have you ever been in an argument with someone you love where the end result was worse than the thing you were actually fighting about? Maybe there is a stale mate, or the silent treatment, or maybe no resolution at all. Relationships can only exist if they can navigate differences inherent in the relationship. If the relationship can’t navigate, resolve, synergize the differences among the people involved, it languishes and dissolves. Simply stated, we either work together, or we don’t.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are a few simple rules I like to employ when resolving conflict well.

  1. It’s the Process, not the Content. Most people who engage in relationship have a sense of shared values and goals. Relationships with shared values and goals usually don’t get caught up in the content of disagreement as much as the way its being carried out. For example, a married couple both value their children’s well being in general (content) but disagree on how (process) their well being is achieved. If the couple can see the shared value that binds them together, they can more easily navigate the execution of that value. When we believe that we have more in common (our values and goals) than not, we get creative about how to meet those values and goals together. The process of resolving conflict is a necessary means toward intimacy, growth and togetherness. Doing it well makes you feel more together.
  2. Face the Conflict Together. People often feel like the conflict is between two parties as in us vs. them. We are the good, the right, the reasonable and they are the bad, the wrong, and off. But a better way to look at conflict is us together vs. the conflict. As if saying to your partner, “it’s you and me together baby, with a problem to solve.” The trouble is when we view the other person as the problem. We say or think things like, “If he would only change,” or “she’s the one who starts fighting,” or “I’m not the one with the problem, they are.” These kind of thoughts or statements put us in one corner of the boxing ring, glaring at the other person in the other corner. Then we duke it out to see who is left standing. The better way is to see conflict resolution as two scientists curing cancer. The cancer is there under our microscope, and we have to come up with some treatments to cure it.
  3. Say the Things Left Unsaid. When people argue in relationships, its usually over things that touch a nerve. All conflicts can be boiled down to their essence. Want to sit in my seat for a minute? Psycho-analyze the next few statements, and I’ll give you my conclusions too.
  • When you hear her complaining about him not doing enough around the house, what is really going on underneath? If you guessed abandonment feelings, you’re right! She feels all alone in the marriage when she cooks, cleans, puts the kids to bed by herself. She feels abandoned.
  • When you hear him complaining that she is never satisfied and nothing he does is ever enough, what is really going on? If you guessed significance issues, you’re right! Underneath those statements, he really feels insignificant and inadequate.
  • When you hear her complain about him spending too much money, what is she really saying? If you said security and safety, you’re right! (you’re so smart!) What she is really saying is, “I am terrified that I will not be safe and secure financially.”
  • When you hear him complain about her babying the children too much, what is really going on? Abandonment again. He is afraid that she will attach to the children more than him, leaving him alone and unloved.

The presenting issue is never the real issue, it’s always the soft underbelly of people’s vulnerabilities that are really the issue. Naming these things can help each have compassion for the other.


4. Soul Search. As we see in the examples above, the deep roots of pain usually have something to do with feeling insignificant, feeling alone and unloved, or feeling controlled and abused. These are often fueled by wounds from the past, and are largely unconscious. We think we are fighting about the kids, or the chores, or the money. But really we are fighting about our fears of abandonment, insignificance and being controlled. You may be tempted to identify your partner’s core fears and focus on those. Don’t. That’s not your job. Instead, focus on your core fears. Identify them, attend to them and make a plan to heal them. When you acknowledge and attend to your own needs, you will feel more empowered, less sensitive or triggered, and more in control.

5. Seek Intimacy. Ready for the hardest part? Once you’ve identified your fears and insecurities, and when you feel safe doing so, share them with your partner. Nothing disarms an arsenal of firepower more than vulnerability. Saying something like, “Ya know when I got angry about the credit card? What was really happening for me, was that I felt really scared and out of control. I felt unimportant and small.” After you share this, you give your partner the opportunity to empathize with you instead of defend his/her actions. It puts you on the same side again. It identifies the problem as fear, not the other person.

6. Know When to Cut Your Losses. I feel like I need to add this one, because some of you have been at this conflict resolution thing for a long time with few or no results. What if the other person in the relationship is not committed to this process, is not willing to Soul Search, is not willing to problem solve or be on the same team? It’s important to know when enough is enough, and to realize you can’t fix a broken relationship by yourself. It takes two. You are responsible to be respectful and to be loving, but you are not required to overlook bad behavior, put up with abuse of any kind or to do the other person’s job for them.


If you need a more in depth resource for achieving intimacy, resolving conflict and having happier relationships, check out my book . It is full of examples, stories, and strategies to help you become a healthier, happier you.

If you’re in the Seattle area, there is a great workshop I’d like you to know about. The name of this two day conference is “Is Childhood Trauma Intruding into Your Relationships?” Discover the Fullness of Joy You Are Create to Experience with keynote speakers, Dr. Bill & Pamela Ronzheimer, Marriage Reconstruction Ministries. I’ll be there too! Click Here for more information.

Conflict Avoidance Makes Things Worse

How do you and your partner handle conflict? How fair do you fight? Are you loud, argumentative and spirited? Or are you more quiet, reserved and stoic? Do you try to avoid conflict, or do you stir it up? 

Your conflict style is influenced by the family system in which you were raised. There are families that deal with their conflict with avoidance or with aggression, but neither is very helpful. Today, I will talk about Avoidant Family Systems,  how they handle conflict, and the problems avoidance causes in families.

Conflict Avoidant Systems

  • Avoid conflict and report that everything is ok.
  • Deny there is a problem or conflict.
  • Minimize the problem or pretend there isn’t one.
  • Resist expressing feelings, raising your voice, or cry
  • Withhold affection, information, communication from partner
  • Use passive aggressive tactics to communicate anger
  • Value peace keeping over conflict resolution
  • Make it unacceptable to bring up issues

People who have been raised in an Avoidant Family System often feel very uncomfortable dealing with conflict.  They see conflict has abnormal or pathological. They see it as a sign that something is wrong in the relationship. They learned early on, that appearing like everything is fine is of higher value than actually making everything fine.

The truth is this: conflict is a normal, healthy thing that arises in all relationships, and must be managed, not hidden. Conflict becomes more powerful and more sinister in nature the longer it is denied or minimized. Avoiding conflict actually separates and isolates family members, and makes each person feel like a stranger in his/her own home. Avoiding relational issues, problems and needs only makes things worse, not better.

Family members often feel lonely or depressed. They may feel angry, but feel bad or guilty about it. They often are not very self-aware about their own feelings, needs or desires, and find it difficult relating to others.

However, if conflict is addressed directly, with skill and wisdom, the members of the family will actually feel closer, safer, and more confident. When conflict is addressed with the goal of resolution, both parties can leave feeling heard and valuable.

How about you? What kind of family system were you raised in, and what did you learn about conflict? How do you address conflict at home, work or relationships now that you’re an adult?

Next week, we will take a look at Aggressive Family Systems their related styles. It’s never to late to learn new and better ways to communicate and resolve conflict.

Conflict Resolution: Three Essentials to Turn Your Conflict Around

Recently I was asked to teach a Conflict Resolution class, to which I immediately said “YES, PLEASE!” Geesh, what a fantastic topic, fraught with drama and energy! Just think of all the sparks I can create. And you know how I like sparks. I’ve found that the growth, healing, and CHANGE we all desire comes out of the SPARK. So let’s talk about how to positively contain and maintain the energy created by the SPARK of conflict.

There are three presiding principles that I want my students to come away with. These principles will guide the entire class for the semester. They are easy to recall when you’re in the middle of a heated conflict and they have the power to change the way the conflict is going.

IT’S ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP, STUPID. During Bill Clinton’s 1992 successful presidential campaign, strategist James Carville coined “The economy, stupid” to focus the campaign volunteers on the main message. I think “It’s About the Relationship, Stupid” helps us focus on the relationship instead of the conflict. Sometimes we view the conflict as a face-off with the other person. But really, it is a natural, normal function of a relationship that both parties can face together. The couple faces the conflict, instead of the couple facing each other in the conflict.
Whatever you do, keep the focus on the relationship. Ask yourself what does the relationship need to make it through this conflict? An apology? A third party mediator? A compromise? It’s critical to remember that the relationship is much more important than the issue. After all, It’s About the Relationship, Stupid!


IT’S NOT ABOUT THE WHAT, IT’S ABOUT THE HOW. Often I will see corporate folks in my office who want to work on their communication and EQ (Emotional Quotient.) They have received some feedback from their supervisors and peers that they need help relating to other people on their team. They understand, plan and execute their work well (the WHAT,) but they have trouble communicating, collaborating and influencing their team (the HOW.) They tunnel-vision their way through life, for the sake of being right, isolating themselves from the people around them. Resolving conflict is often less about the CONTENT of what is being debated, and more about the PROCESS of how resolution is achieved. When you have a conflict with someone, you may be as right as rain and completely justified in your stance. However, if your style of communication makes the other party feel demeaned, inferior, dumb, or on the opposite side, you have lost the relationship. And remember, it’s About the Relationship, Stupid.

If being RIGHT trumps RELATIONSHIP, prepare yourself for a life of broken ones. However, if you learn to take the HOW seriously, there is nothing you can’t accomplish. The HOW is learning to communicate with humility, with inclusivity, and with open ended questions that draw people in, instead of pushing people away. Being willing to bend, to morph, and to expand your point of view communicates to the other person that you value what they bring to the table.


IT’S NOT A PROBLEM, IT’S AN OPPORTUNITY. Often, people are afraid of conflict because they associate conflict with something bad. Because of experiences within the Family of Origin, conflict could mean yelling, hitting, silence, withdrawal, break up, or cut off. These negative experiences with conflict can make people treat conflict like a major problem, instead of the opportunity it really is. Conflict is merely an opportunity to take the relationship to a new level of understanding, cooperation and even intimacy. There is no growth, no change, no success without the SPARK, and every relationship needs the SPARK. Conflict doesn’t have to be avoided, denied or obliterated. It should be recognized, and yes, even embraced as an opportunity to come closer. Conflict, when managed with the RELATIONSHIP and the HOW in mind, is merely a means of sharpening your character, your EQ, and your world view. It is an opportunity to widen your perspective, hone your empathy skills, and make you an expert in communication. The SPARK is not DARK! It is a GIFT with potential for great good. Conflict can be scary, just like a SPARK in dry grass. But once you know how to handle that SPARK, you can use its energy to create something new, different, and better. Whether it be a marriage, a team, a client relationship or a family, your ability to do SPARK MANAGEMENT with the RELATIONSHIP, the HOW, and the OPPORTUNITY in constant focus will energize your relationships for greater good.


If Relationships are a Dance, Here are 5 Essential Moves to Know

My husband took some friends and me dancing for my 40th birthday a while back. Any 80’s Material Girl will tell you that a party begins with the Pre-Party in the bathroom. Loud music, hot irons, nail polish, and 10 already-tried-on fashion fails littering the floor. Everything must be. Just. Right. Once I picked the dress, I called for backup from the baby sitter and my pre-teen daughters. Does this go together? Is this dress too tight? I swear it fit last year. Is it ok to wear these orthotics? No? Ok. Do I look, you know, old? Are panty hose in or out? I never know! What about my eye makeup? I’m going for smoky, does it look smoky? Or does it look like my crows feet are just choking? Hey, watch me do the Roger Rabbit- look! I still got it! Groan. Mom, go- you’re gonna be late! That night, we danced till my knees hurt, and then we danced some more.

Relationships are like that dance. We anticipate, we prepare, we get advice and then we dance. We pick our partner with hopes of reeling and laughing and closeness and love, and for a while, the dance is great. But as time goes on, and life’s demand’s increase, the dance gets harder. The steps become more complicated. More skill is required to maneuver the required steps.  We end up stepping all over each other’s toes with territorial ego and unchecked insecurities. We spin to the music, afraid our partner won’t actually catch us. We discover that other dance partners look better, stronger, safer. We compete and blame, and act a tough game. The dance floor becomes a boxing ring while each of us throw jabs and then hustle back to our corners. If the dance becomes too much of a struggle, we may leave the dance floor all together. Some of us think, “maybe I was never meant for dancing in the first place,” or “if I were a better dancer, my partner would love me,” or “If he were a better dancer, this would work.”

When we were children, our families were our first dance partners and our home was the dance floor. They showed us a certain way to dance, and that way became familiar to us. It may not have been loving, enjoyable, skilled or functional, but it was what we knew. Because we have imperfect families with imperfect parents, the dance got messy. Some of us even swore as youth, “I’ll never be like them when I grow up!”

As adults, however, we unwittingly attract the same kind of dance partners to our adult dance floor. They may not look the same or act the same, but they dance the same. They feel the same. We put ourselves in the same position we were always in, and we repeat the same messy dance that our parents taught us. Sometimes we turn into the very person we swore we never would. Sometimes we marry the type of person who most hurt us as children.

If you have been deeply wounded by the dance, I get it.  Maybe your childhood family system set you up for what looked like a mosh pit, not a dance floor. Maybe your family of origin looked like a middle school dance in the gym where the boys lined one side and the girls lined the other, and the “bad kids” were making out in the back. Maybe in your family, there was something wrong and weak about wanting closeness, so you had to get it in ways that seemed taboo. Or maybe your childhood family system was touch and go, hot and cold, unpredictable and chaotic. Families with addictions and mental illness can feel intensely bi-polar where love and war exist in the same breath. Whatever type of dance floor you learned your first steps, you can re-learn what you need to know for healthy, loving relationships today.

Start Dancing Well by answering these questions

  1. Recognize Your Dance Patterns: How did your family handle conflict, affection and communication? What negative habits have you brought from your family of origin to your current relationship? Do you avoid conflict or do you rush in with arguments? Are you afraid of intimacy or do you smother your partner? Recognize what you are doing to attract the wrong partner or to push good partners away.

  2. Recognize Your Partner’s Dance Patterns: If you have a partner, what family dance patterns did he/she learn growing up? What was his/her role in conflict? Rescuer, scapegoat, rebel, victim, abuser? How is your partner reacting to you in the dance?

  3. Own Your Broken Moves: You may have the moves like Jagger, but if the dance is broken, so are your moves. Look closely at your own contribution to the conflict in your relationship. Be careful and humble to own your broken part of the dance. Are you pushy, enabling, avoidant, passive, or checked out? Identify your part and seek real change

  4. Learn New Moves: You have the power to change yourself and start a new dance. You have the power to change the dynamics in your relationship for the better, even if you are the only one working on it. You are a learner and a doer, so give some attention to replacing ineffective dance moves with ones that really swing!

  5. Ask Your Partner to Dance Again: Once you have done the first four steps by making yourself emotionally healthy, it is time to offer a hand to your partner. Invite him/her to experience the safety, intimacy and joy of dancing with a healthy partner. Even though it’s hard to start again, take the first step by offering forgiveness, grace and friendship. You got this. Maybe you find that the dance is over, and you find yourself dancing alone with no partner in sight. Don’t worry, there are many others doing the same thing. It’s called Line Dancing, and it’s very fun!

You are a treasure and a delight, and you were made to dance. As far as it’s up to you, be the best dancer you can be. Be proud of the hard work you’ve accomplished to change negative patterns. Congratulate yourself on what you’ve accomplished so far in your emotional and spiritual growth. And Dance.

Conflict at Work: Who Started it?

Is it them, or is iyou? Who started it anyway? 

Resolving Conflict takes skill, time and effort. If you can do it well, you can save marriages, business partnerships, and huge organizations from emotional and financial divorce. But how can you resolve conflict when your personally invested? How do you manag

e the emotions enough to keep the trust in the relationship strong?

Nothing can rev the engine like a hearty disagreement in the office. Whether sparks are flying or it is stone cold silent, conflict is a part of normal office life. You may not be able to resolve all conflict, but you can learn to manage it in a way that keeps you from losing yourself (and your shirt too).

Zack was a partner in charge of sales of a midsize company. His strengths included building relationships, product knowledge, and taking the attitude that, behind each sale was a real person. His team liked him and he liked his job. But he felt at odds with his business partner, Pete. When Pete offered a suggestion or ask about progress, Zack got defensive. The more this happened, the less he and his partner talked. This lack of communication affected everyone in the company, and it felt like the company was going in two different directions. Zack came into my office asking, “How can I talk to my partner without getting negative and combative?”

I consider Zack a superstar exec for two reasons; 1) he valued his business relationship more than saving face, and 2) instead of blaming his partner, he sought to resolve the conflict by owning his part.

It turns out, that Zack was acting more like an employee than a partner. Zack respected Pete’s expertise and sense of command so much, too much in fact, that he felt inferior. Zack was a partner in writing, and a subordinate in action. Pete’s self-confidence triggered Zack’s self-doubt. His insecurities resulted in passive anger, defensiveness and un-aligned vision for the company. This hurts the bottom line.

Zack and I talked about the value of the strengths he brought to the business. Zack developed a new script for himself that included “being an equal” and “having valuable input”. Zack was able to accept Pete’s strong style of leadership without taking offense to it, and was able to validate his own contributions to the business without considering them to be “less than”. This didn’t happen over night, but it did happen, and the partnership started to thrive again.


Consider the value: there is great value in the synergy, effectiveness and creativity of working relationships. Relationships are worth their weight in gold if kept healthy. How important is it for your success to make the relationship work?

Own your part of the conflict: it is easy to blame the other person. However, a good leader takes ownership of his contribution to the conflict and seeks to make a mends, make peace, and make resolution.

Ask for Help: often two people need a mediator to help resolve an issue. The working relationship between the two may be important enough to seek outside help.

Take a Break: if you are committed to finding a solution, take a break to think things over with a time and place to reconvene. Give yourself and the other party time to consider the problem and options for solutions.

Win Win: Any good resolution will cause both parties to feel as though they have won something- that the results were good for both parties. Work to identify and communicate your needs. If you are able to trust the intentions of the other party, then working to maintain the relationship is a priority.

Cut Ties: If the working relationship has come to the point where trust is gone, there may not be the time and the willingness it takes to build that trust back for future relationship. You may need to go your separate ways if 1) your conscience is pricked for ethical reasons, 2) the other party is self-interested to the point your requests are ignored, 3) threats/bullying/hostility means you trusted the wrong people and it’s time to let the Titanic sink without you on it.

More times than not, cutting ties can be avoided if proper understanding between two good willed parties is expressed.

Now it’s your turn. What Conflict Resolution Strategies have worked for you? Have you ever stayed in a working relationship long past the date it STOPPED working? What did you learn from it?

My “Relationship Savvy” blog gives you tips, advice, and flippin’ fantastic feel-goods to help with your most difficult relationship challenges.

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