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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Three (3) Core Elements of Healthy Conflict Resolution, and their unhealthy shadows.

Conflict... This word used to send shivers up my spine. 

When I thought of conflict, I couldn't help but see that conflict meant I was wrong or bad or insufficient. Someone was asking me to change, which I already knew I couldn't do. It felt accusatory, bad, wrong, and I ran from it. So much so, that my wife at the time would begin to bring something up that smelled like conflict and I would go into full shut-down mode. I was incapable of feeling or thinking of having any thoughts. This is called being Conflict Avoidant.

Photo by jean wimmerlin on Unsplash

As I healed, I learned that Conflict is actually neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor unhealthy... conflict can be a great tool to help you grow individually or as a couple/friend.

The difference between healthy and unhealthy conflict is the topic of today's' discussion.

There are at least three core elements of a conflict. 

There are many ways to break this down but for our purposes, we will look at three core elements and their results.

  1. Address it: The person who is having an emotion brings it up with the other party.
  2. Receive it: The person who's behavior (purposefully or accidentally) led to the emotion, hears the first person. 
  3. Process and Resolve it: The parties work through the conflict until it comes to some kind of end result (positive, neutral, or negative). 

Conflict Principles

Before we can look at these in more detail, we need to understand some principals of conflict management. If you (both parties, not just one) carry these into the conversation you carry a much higher degree of certainty that the outcome will be healthy and benefit all involved. 

  • Seek first to understand, not to be understood. You cannot go into the conversation (either addressing or receiving) with an attitude of fists up, ready to defend your position). If you do, you've lost before you have begun. Your first goal must be to understand the other person, not push to be heard. From personal semi-recent experience, I can tell you pushing to be understood may remove that person from your life forever. 
  • Assume the Best. If you are going to address an emotion or behavior, assume the best about the other person. If you assume the worst, why bother addressing anything? If they are the worst, then just walk away forever. If you care about them, you should assume they have your best interest at heart until you have independent reason to believe otherwise, in which case, you should probably cut off the relationship and walk away. So if you're not ready to walk away, assume the best. 
  • Addresser: Own your Emotion. It is your emotion. The other party did not cause it. They do not have the power to create feelings inside of you. What matters to one person deeply wouldn't even show up on another person's emotion radar. So if you are having an emotion, that emotion is YOUR responsibility, not the other party's. Even if their behavior/action led to your emotional reaction, it is your emotion. Own the responsibility for it. We must own our emotions without making it about the other person. To say "you made me so angry" is to assign that person magical powers they do not have, ever. It's your emotion, own it.

  • Receiver: Empathize with the emotion. You've felt this way in some fashion before, try to remember what it felt like. Even if you don't see why your action should have caused the other person to feel the way they do, that is irrelevant, they do. You are not responsible for their emotion but you can have empathy and compassion for it. You can also see where you could do better, so try to see it from their view (back to seeking to understand, not be understood). It's possible they feel a certain way because they misjudged you, you can be the addresser next and we can start this whole process over from you addressing your emotion about their emotion. For now, just seek to understand. 
  • Love and Affirmation: Your attitude should be that of LOVE (patient, kind, gentle, no records of wrong... 1 Cor 13 stuff). It should be with the goal of Affirmation (positively affirming the person's value to you and your life and their own intrinsic value as God's Child). The goal cannot be to change behavior first. That comes second. First, the goal must be to understand and empathize with the emotion. Only then, when both parties understand why the emotion happened, can the behavior then be evaluated in the right light, context, and environment of love and affirmation. 

With those principles in mind, let's look at the three elements separately. 

Address it: The person who is having an emotion brings it up with the other party.

  • Healthy: I'm having a feeling, I own it, can you partner with me in this. 
  • Unhealthy: Different from: I'm having a feeling, you're responsible, make it stop.

The best tool I know of to start these conversations in a way where the behavior is addressed but the person feeling the emotion still owns it is called "When you/I felt". 

The action needs to be concrete and specific, NO generalities. So instead of "When you do things like this" it could be "When you put the cup on the counter instead of the dishwasher...".

The emotion needs to be owned by the feeler of the emotion. So "You make me so..." would be incorrect. Nobody can make you feel anything. You own that emotion. 

The topic needs to be the emotion, not the action. The goal is NOT to change the action/behavior, not yet. The goal is to ensure both parties hear each other's hearts. Only then can we evaluate the action in the right context. 

This could sound like this:

  • When you put the cup on the counter instead of the dishwasher, I felt disrespected. Like you didn't care about how hard I work to keep things clean. Like you didn't value my efforts. I felt disrespected and uncared for. Can we talk about how I'm feeling? (note: not 'what you did'). 
  • When you picked up the phone during dinner, I felt unwanted and less important than whatever was on your Facebook feed. Can we talk about how hurt I feel?

Receive it: The person who's behavior (purposefully or accidentally) led to the emotion, hears the first person, seeks to understand (not defend), and paraphrases back to the Addresser what they heard to check for understanding.

  • Healthy: Seek to understand: Tell me more about that... 
  • Unhealthy: Defensive: That's not what I did... meant... said... You always blow things out of proportion...
"Tell me more about that... What was going on in your heart when you felt that way? What words or phrases did you experience in your inner self-talk about that?" 

"So when I put the cup on the counter, you felt disrespected. I'm so sorry, I had no idea. I apologize for taking an action that caused you to feel uncared for. Will you please forgive me?

Process and Resolve it: The parties work through the conflict until it comes to some kind of end result (positive, neutral, or negative). 

This process of hearing, asking, seeking to understand may be quick for small items or take days/weeks for bigger life issues. But the goal is always a relationship, love, connection. Connecting each other's hearts. 

  • Healthy: Both parties assume the best of the other, seek to understand not be understood, hear each other out, don't get defensive or wall off, and work to resolve the emotion as well as any possible behavior modifications that may be best to love each other well. 
  • Unhealthy: Both parties wall off, defend, assume the worst of each other, shut down, and they miss each other's hearts, over-focusing on behaviors and never hearing each other's hearts.

The End results:

When a conflict is handled well, both parties will end up feeling valued and heard, cared for, and they will feel more connected to each other. 

When a conflict is not handled well, both parties will feel violated, disrespected, unloved, uncared for, defensive, and less connected to each other. 

If you aren't sure if you (both of you) are handling the conflict well, all you need to do is examine the fruit. 

  • Healthy: More Connected
  • Unhealthy: Less Connected

It really is that simple. It's not easy, it's actually the hardest lesson I've ever learned. I had to press in when everything was telling me to wall off and run. 

It's not easy, but it is simple. 


One of the most helpful references I have seen on the topic of relationships is: Boundaries Updated and Expanded Edition: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Life, by Henry Cloud  (Author), John Townsend (Author) (affiliate link) 



Shalom: Live Long and Prosper!
Darrell Wolfe (DG Wolfe)
Storyteller | Writer | Thinker | Consultant @

Clifton StrengthsFinder: Intellection, Learner, Ideation, Achiever, Input
16Personalities (Myers-Briggs Type): INFJ


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