Chronic conflict can sap your strength. It can really mess up your life. Maybe you know just what I mean: the searingly painful kind, when every attempt to communicate ends in anger, sadness, and feelings of failure. Ugh.
The fact is, this kind of recurring bad dream is oh, so human. What to do? Let’s go there.
1. Begin with you.
Yes. You. The bottom line is that when it comes to chronic conflict—and much else in life—this is the only place where you have control. There isn’t a thing you can do about someone else’s actions and reactions. But there is an upside to that downside. You can work very effectively with your part in any challenging situation.
Now, think about these questions with your situation in mind:
What’s your goal for the communication?
What are the potential land mines?
What are the potential opportunities?
2. Create a constructive point of view.
Next, while considering all that, set aside your judgments, all the yada yada yada about the other person. Really. And yes, all your reasons not to will rear up here like ghosts from a grave. It’s human.
Yet this is something we can do to get beyond conflict. We can—because our goals matter—begin to handle chronic issues in new ways. Like working within our own new, non-negotiable commitments to ourselves.
For example, let’s say two ex-spouses can’t communicate without battling, and their kids are caught in the crossfire. Ouch. Right? And oh, so human.
But each parent can in fact step back, think about the situation, and find a point of view that eases conflict. Maybe their struggle is partly about being alike in some ways. Passionate. Uncompromising. Or still feeling things that get in the way of the work of the moment.
Each can in fact do the good work of assuming and imagining that the other is feeling similar feelings and frustrations. Including a need to stop the madness.
They can begin there. Then progress is suddenly, absolutely possible.
3. Stay in the present.
Don’t waste energy rehashing the past. Really. It’s a losing battle, and one that’s over already. Right? Don’t keep re-creating it. It’s exhausting.
Instead, in the privacy of your own sincere heart, try releasing all the meanings you’re giving past failed attempts to communicate. They don’t mean a thing, except whatever power you give them.
Let it all go. You deserve it. Then connect in present time, calmly. Think solutions.
Like the mom and dad above, you can rise to the challenge. It’s self-discipline in action. Step up to that version of you. Then demo that “you” for the folks who matter in your particular situation. They’ll feel—and learn from—your good work.
And remember that at times we humans learn slowly. Repetition is powerful. Play a long game, especially in relationships that are life-long, like co-parenting.
4. Keep coming back to you.
Let’s imagine another scene of chronic conflict:
An employee can’t relate to her supervisor, feels mistreated or unappreciated, and knows her feelings may hurt her career. It’s a “catch 22.” Lose-lose. Because the truth is, her supervisor’s positive feedback is the gateway to greater opportunities.
If she counts out dramatic steps like going around the supervisor, which could backfire big-time, she can get about the business of giving up her judgments about what has happened so far. Yep, in light of her goals, doing just that is part of her work at hand.
She can own her part in the way things have gone. She can move forward, into the future she wants, rather than trying to get justice somehow by “being right” about… whatever. In short, she can stop re-playing losing battles and reclaim the energy they’ve been stealing from her.
Instead, maybe she can find some compassion within herself for her supervisor’s pressures and stresses. Or inspire herself with thoughts of the happy day this relationship is in her rear-view mirror because she negotiated it beautifully.
Imagine the renewed energy and the fresh approach that good work can generate. Seriously.
5. Create an intention for the conversation.
Creating an intention helps us bring our best to the table. One intention might be to have a simple, effective exchange. One first, small, calm victory. Another might be to stay centered despite any curve balls.
Create an intention that energizes you. One that becomes your compass in potentially choppy waters as you manage yourself. Remember: work with what you can control. And mean it. Bring your own A-game.
Then success or failure isn’t in anyone’s hands but your own. If you handle yourself as you intended, you’ve succeeded. Worth repeating: If you handle yourself as you intended, you’ve succeeded. And you’ve grown.
6. Prepare with a little role-play.
Why do so many of us hate role-playing? After all, we lived it 24 and 7 as kids, effortlessly. And it’s in fact a secret weapon toward self-mastery in tough situations.
You can share with a helper a bit about the “rough weather” that chronic conflict is creating in your life. Then let this kind soul help you practice getting beyond those squalls in ways that match your intention.
Make it fun! I promise it will make a difference, maybe the difference, in getting beyond conflict.
7. Agree to stop and re-schedule if needed.
Consider sharing your intention at the start of the conversation. Your new context may help set a new tone.
A couple of ground rules also help:
One is for both parties to agree to stick to I statements. (I feel this. I need/request that.) Avoid you statements. (You always/never… You’re… whatever.)
Another is to agree up front that if either person starts to get distressed, it’s time to close up shop and try again later. Like role-playing, this works, if you calmly follow through before slippage leads to wreckage. Really. Stop.
And I do mean calmly. What’s more, be proud of yourself when you manage this.
Because then even ending a conversation shows commitment to get beyond conflict. And it implies more good work to come.
8. Keep imagining the outcomes you want, not the ones you fear.
Finally, like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, keep upping your game toward the breakthrough you’re looking for. Spend time envisioning exactly what you want. Imagine progress like moments of mutual kindness, new understanding, and positive outcomes.
Then allow what you’ve imagined to guide you: your greeting, and your tone. The words you use. Your facial expressions and body language. The energy behind the words you choose.
Be you, yes. Be your best you. Don’t hold that you back! What better time than in a moment that matters so much?
And as you prepare your heart and mind for this important work, get whatever support you need. Remember, you—and yours—deserve an amazing life. Don’t let chronic conflict bring you down.