Does taking sides actually get to the heart of conflict?

Does taking sides actually get to the heart of conflict?

Sometimes in our intimate and most important relationships, there are times that things can get heated. The times where that emotional “button” is pressed in the midst of an intense disagreement. No one really thinks in that moment, that conflict is present. But where there is conflict, there needs to be resolve. At that particular time, it’s just a matter of getting through the situation, not “solving” per se’. Finding a solution during moments of intense disagreements is considered conflict resolution.

Conflict Resolution is that secret phrase that either person doesn’t want to say or address. Some of us don’t like conflict or confrontation, and some of us do. Some have the ready to go to war mentality. This reveals that personality can play a role when responding to conflict. Let’s take the couple Ashley and John, for example. Ashley is very strong-minded, outspoken, and opinionated. John, on the other hand, is reserved and very calculated in choosing his battles. When Ashley and John get into an intense disagreement, Ashley likes to address the issue right on spot, with bullet points of what John has done wrong. She explains how his actions made her feel. John tries to avoid disagreements by delaying the conversation, in hopes that the issue at hand will pass and Ashley will forget. Hence, nothing ever gets resolved because of this.

In the example above, Ashley may be seen as the person who communicates assertively. That means she is open, direct, honest, and respectful when relaying her message to John. John may be seen as the person who communicates passively. That means that he does not stand up for himself. He lacks response when the opportunity arises to express his needs/wants/thoughts.

When I think of conflict resolution, I think of solving a disagreement with reason and fair results. Does being fair mean taking one side over another? One would argue that taking sides may truly be the effective way to handle a situation when trying to get to the heart of an issue. Neutrality may be seen as playing it safe. Playing it safe meaning, not calling out the discrepancies, not confronting the issue at its root, and not allowing space for the party in the “wrong” to take responsibility.

I beg to differ. One reason is that it seems a lot of disagreements rarely get resolved when taking sides. This is because one focuses on who was right and who was wrong. Another reason is that it may cause situations to escalate. Components of successful conflict resolution in intimate or significant relationships require a few things. Let’s take a look at what would be helpful for Ashley and John to reach a resolution.

Active listening- Both parties want to feel as if they were heard by their partner, and that their points were relayed effectively. When active listening is portrayed this is what happens: each party will reflect on what the other said, summarize key components from their perspective, engage in the conversation with minimal non-verbal cues (i.e. head nodding, eye contact).

Another part of active listening is the effective use of “I” statements. John wants to let Ashley know how it feels when he is hurt but does not want to do so in an accusatory manner. In expressing himself using an “I” statement, John may state: “I feel disappointed when you….” By leading with his feelings instead of what she did, that may prevent Ashley from becoming defensive, and therefore reduce the possibly of the situation escalating.

Taking responsibility-John hates it when he finally tries to express himself and Ashley dances around acknowledging her (from what he thinks) wrongdoings. Ashley hates it when she tries to express herself and John won’t apologize for ignoring her. Taking responsibility for one’s own actions is seen as an act of humility and shows some accountability. Simply acknowledging the cause and effect of one’s behavior can be the difference–even if Ashley or John is unsure whether there was an impact from their acknowledgment.

Compromise-This requires one person to lay aside their differences for the best interest of their partner. In the center of conflict, Ashley and John were able to reach a mutual understanding, despite negative feelings, personality clashes, and/or different communication styles.

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