“Where two or three are gathered … someone spills their milk!” The former president of Multnomah University, Dr. Joe Aldrich, used to say this in pointing out the fact that whenever two or more people live in close proximity of each other, some crisis is bound to happen. Some issue, some trouble, some quarrel is going to come up. Conflict is inevitable. But how we handle conflict will be the difference between the road to isolation and alienation, or the path to closeness and a deeper relationship. This is never more true than in the family. Conflict is inevitable, but conflict is also an opportunity! When a conflict is handled properly, the relationship is actually stronger on the other side, than it was before. The key is working through the conflict in a productive and effective way. Here are the steps to resolving conflict for teens and adults:
1. Go to the person you are angry with (or who is angry with you), and tell them that you would like to talk to them.
2. Identify the problem or issue clearly and concisely. If it was an offense against you, state “in terms of behavior” the offense and how it made you feel. Avoid name-calling, keep a calm tone of voice, and attack the problem not the person.
3. Allow the other person to give their side of the story or perspective on that issue.
4. Try to admit what you did wrong in the situation and “own” your part of the conflict.
5. Each person ask for forgiveness for their own part in the argument.
6. Each person agree to forgive the other.
7. Together, come up with an action plan for avoiding this conflict in the future. Each one commit to this plan and say what they will do differently from that point on.
(This list is available for download as an MS Word document or a PDF in the Downloads section of the Passionate Legacy web page.)
These should be posted in a conspicuous place in the house and teens should be invited to use these with each other and with the parents, and parents should use them with teens and with each other as well.
Note that in step 2, you are to identify the offense “in terms of behavior.” This is in contrast to a “characterization of personality.” Listen to the following: “Why are you always so rude!?” “You are being a pest!” “Why are you such a slob!?” Contrast these statements, which make characterizations, with the following alternatives: “When you spoke to me in that tone of voice, it sounded disrespectful,” “When you make those noises while I am trying to read, it really bothers me,” “Please pick up the mess you left on the table and floor of the dining room.” These last three statements address a specific behavior and will be more readily received than any blanket statement of personality or name-calling. This way of speaking will help in any relationship (marriage, coworkers, etc.), but it is HUGE in parenting. It breaks my heart when I hear a parent calling a child a name: sloppy, lazy, dumb, stubborn, etc. Name calling condemns the other person and may become a self-fulfilling prophecy, whereas addressing the specific behavior gives the person hope because they know exactly what they can change to make the relationship better.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1