Divorce has a reputation of being all about conflict – before, during, and after. It does not have to be like that, however. Here are a few tips for reducing conflict in your relationships:
1. Focus on what is important. Sometimes we just get in the habit of conflict – we’ll argue with ANYTHING a certain person says, because we just view them as wrong about everything. It can help to stop and think before responding, asking yourself “Does this matter enough to argue about?” Just failing to respond in the expected negative way can often disarm the other person.
2. Look for common interests. Chances are you and the person you are in conflict with do have some common interests. You and your ex-spouse both care about your children. You and the other person both have some similar goals (helping the PTA succeed, completing that work project, coming to an agreement). If you can emphasize the interests you have in common, you have a better chance of getting the other person to work with you rather than against you.
3. Invite the other person help problem solve. Too often we see the other person as the problem and so we attack them to attack the problem. If we can see the problem itself as the problem and not the other person, then we can attack the problem without attacking the other person. When we attack the other person we cause them to pull back and become defensive, and that makes it harder rather than easier to work together. Instead of making it about them, make it about yourself, then ask the other person if they can help you. You can say something like “I am having a problem with…, do you have any ideas how to solve this?” Most people like being helpful. It strokes their ego’s to think they can help solve a problem. At work, rather than saying “this proposal is terribly written, go fix it”, you can say “I am having trouble understanding this proposal, do you have any thoughts on how to make it clearer?” With your ex, instead of saying “You don’t spend enough time with the kids, don’t you care about them?”, try “The kids are really missing you, what can we do to give them some special time with you?”
4. Listen. The more we understand the other person’s point of view, the more we can find ways to address their concerns. The more the other person feels heard, the more they will see you as an ally rather than an opponent. People LIKE being listened to, so you create good will just by listening. The extra benefit is that it allows you to respond in a way that is more in tune with how the other person thinks. Even if you disagree with them, you can phrase your disagreement in terms the other person is more likely to understand. ” I know you are hoping to achieve X, but I worry that this approach might work against that because ….”
5. Create an atmosphere for cooperation. One way to invite cooperation is by being cooperative. If you make the first move, you put some pressure on the other person to reciprocate. This may not always work, but it is worth trying. It might even take more than one time. Go back to tip number 1 – focus on what is important. Cooperating on things that you don’t see as worth fighting about builds good will for when you really need it on something that IS important.
Reducing conflict is not just about getting what you want (though you will achieve more of your goals when you can get others to work with you rather than react defensively to you), but more importantly reducing conflict in your life is about lessening stress, helping you be happier. Don’t we all want that?