8 Guidelines for Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution
In this blog series, we have examined the importance of preparation for healthy marriages and maintaining healthy relationships through learning the skills of communication and conflict resolution. We have looked at possible reasons why we don’t communicate and resolve conflict and reasons why we should communicate and resolve conflict. In this final blog, we will look at how we can communicate and resolve conflict in a safe, loving, and effective manner. Obviously, being able to do it well is the key!
How We Can Communicate and Resolve Conflict
- Find a time and place when you can talk without being rushed or interrupted. Be intentional about carving out a mutually workable time.
- Take turns sharing and listening.
- Decide that you are going to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. Rather than assuming negative intentions, assume that there must be some reason why they did what they did or said what they said, and you are going to find it.
- When you are sharing, keep it all about you! What that means is, don’t tell the other person what they did wrong or how they upset you. Instead, describe to them how you experienced the situation, how you are feeling about it, what you would like to see different, and what you might need or want. When you are describing your feelings, stick with the softer emotions. For example, instead of saying that you are angry or fed up, describe how you are feeling hurt, unimportant, left out, or misunderstood. When you use softer emotions, it makes it much easier for the other person to be able to take in what you are saying. Share a little bit at a time, so that the other person is not overwhelmed, and so that they can respond to what you are sharing.
- When you are listening, don’t be thinking about your response or your rebuttal. If you do that, it makes it hard to actively listen. There will be time later for you to offer your viewpoint. For now, just focus on listening and trying to understand the other person’s perspective. After the other person shares a bit, restate back to them in your own words what you understood them to say. If you didn’t get it quite right, have them restate it until they believe that you have a good understanding of what they are trying to say. When they have completely finished with what they want to say, then it is time for you to share your perspective and your experience of the situation. Follow the same guidelines as mentioned above.
- Take turns sharing one thing you would like to see different and one thing that you can do differently. Let the other person know that what they think, feel, want, and need are just as important as what you think, feel, want, and need.
- Collaborate on a plan to make those changes happen.
- Thank the other person for sharing and collaborating with you.
I tend to sum this process up in two phrases: be kind, and be descriptive.
Be kind. You know what the other person’s buttons are, so don’t push them. You know that one thing you could say that would really get them, so don’t say it. Don’t hurt them. If you do, you really are just making it harder for yourself because they won’t be able to listen to you or collaborate with you.
Be descriptive. If you keep it about you, not the other person, and describe your experience of the situation, your feelings/thoughts/wants/needs, and how the situation impacts you, then you will make it much easier for the other person to hear you and take in what you are trying to say. When you are being descriptive, you won‘t be blaming or attacking.
Communication and conflict resolution are critical to healthy relationships. By determining what makes it hard for us to share, considering reasons why it’s better for us if we do, and following guidelines to do it more safely and effectively, we can begin to develop healthier relationships and marriages. It is definitely worth the time, risk, and effort!
Willa Williams is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and serves at the Biola Center for Marriage and Relationships as a consulting therapist. She has been married for 30 years, and has two teenage children. Willa has a passion for healthy relationships, and enjoys working with couples as well as individuals. She has a Master of Arts in Religion from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, IL), and a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Trinity International University (Deerfield, IL).