Monday, September 30, 2013

Olive Branches and Boomerangs

Olive Branches and Boomerangs

All relationships have their challenges.  Whether it’s a partner, a supervisor, a colleague, a family member or a friend, we all bring our histories, our perceptions and our assumptions with us whenever we interact with others.  Our unique experiences shape who we are, how we see the world, and how we resolve conflicts. 

Interpersonal conflicts can take many forms.  Often they are simple misunderstandings that can be cleared up relatively easily.  Other times, conflicts can last longer than they should or increase in severity because they become rolled up in the web of previous conflicts one has already experienced.  These conflicts aren’t necessarily associated with the person or people that s/he is currently struggling with. 

What to do about these situations?  Well, that depends on several factors.  First, it’s key to assess how important the relationship is. Depending on the nature of the relationship, conflict resolution might be necessary.  However, if the relationship doesn’t seem that important, it can feel easier to ignore the conflict by avoiding the topic or the person all together.  If the relationship is important to you either professionally or personally, conflict resolution is the best way to address the problem and heal your relationship.

Conflict resolution strategies:

1.   Before confronting anyone, clearly think about and identify your goal(s).   For example, are you trying to improve communication?  Have a more meaningful relationship?  Feel validated or heard?  Apologize for a mistake?

2.  Extend an olive branch by respectfully requesting to speak with the person(s) whom you’re having difficulty with.  This can be an uncomfortable and humbling experience as the olive branch you extend may be denied.  You may think that you’re extending an olive branch with the best of intentions, but the rejection may make it feel like it’s a boomerang. In these unfortunate cases, remember that you’ve done your part in trying to create a more peaceful and mutually respectful dynamic.  Any lingering resentment and tension are no longer your responsibility.

3.  If your request to meet is accepted, try to find a neutral place to talk if possible.  It will minimize either party in feeling additionally uncomfortable or that one of you may be at a disadvantage. 

4.  When discussing your concerns, focus on your own feelings, as they are the only feelings you can be sure of. 

5.  Making assumptions about the other person(s)’s feelings or perceptions of the situation can make matters worse and cause the other person to feel invalidated. 

6.  Keeping score or trying to force the other person to agree with you can also be invalidating.   If you speak from your heart, it should minimize the need to act competitively.  The need to be right doesn’t have a place in true conflict resolution and it can distract from the work that needs to be done.

7.  Focus on your common goals as a means to create a bridge to the other person.  It will remind you both of the significance of your relationship.

8.  Focus on the current situation.  If you’ve had other issues in the past, it is best to avoid bringing them up at this time so you can focus on the here and now.  While it might be difficult, it is important to recognize that some improvements may have occurred in other areas of your relationship and you don’t want to diminish the growth that has already taken place.

9.  When meeting, give the same courtesy, time and compassion that you would like to receive.  Remember that your feelings aren’t the only feelings to be considered. 

10. Lastly, remember that you are only responsible for your behaviors and words.  You are not responsible for how others respond to you.  Regardless of the outcome, it’s ok to accept things as they are by letting go, moving on and reminding yourself of the impermanence in all things. 

When your true intentions for peace and understanding are clear, you can help facilitate healthy and honest dialogues that will transform your relationships.  I hope this blog is helpful to you. Please feel free to leave a comment or message me with any feedback.  

All the best,

Lisa Matus, LCSW

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