Communication Skills and Conflict Resolution in Healthy Relationships
Healthy relationships between adults are the result of
successful negotiation. Two persons who want to form a
relationship bring their unique mix of needs, priorities, expectations,
opinions, and values to the relationship. In some areas, their mixes
coincide while in other areas they do not and, thus, need to be
For example, suppose we decide to move in together. Our needs,
priorities, expectations, opinions, and values are represented by the
two circles - one for me and one for you.
Where the two circles overlap represents areas of agreement, but where
they do not represents potential areas of conflict, which we'll have to negotiate
as we bring our lives closer together. Many differences can just be
accepted. You can like the Yankees and I can like the Orioles, and we
can simply agree to differ. Other differences, however, must be
resolved, such as how to parent, where to live, how to manage money and
chores, etc. etc. etc.
So, conflict is not the problem. In fact, it's inevitable.
The problem is when two people do not know how to resolve differences,
because each unresolved conflict of significance becomes a brick, and
too many bricks becomes a wall with the two people standing on opposite
sides, each feeling frustrated, confused, misunderstood, and wondering
if the love between them still exists.
So, in order to build a healthy relationship, both persons must possess
skills for resolving conflicts because without these skills,
negotiations will fail and the relationship will suffer. I will now
describe four essential skills for healthy conflict resolution:
Skill #1: SKILLFUL EXPRESSION is the ability to express
my needs, values, opinions, feelings, and priorities in a clear, direct,
and respectful way. In other words, "say what you mean, mean what you
say, but don't say it mean." The goal of skillful expression is to
advocate for myself in a non-threatening manner that is least likely to
trigger my partner’s defenses. This does not mean beating around the
bush but rather expressing myself clearly with “I” statements while
employing body language, voice tone, and word choices that convey
respect. For example, “When you
come home from work late, I feel worried and anxious. So, it would be
helpful to me if you would call me and let me know you are running
Skill #2: SKILLFUL LISTENING is the ability to listen
with the sole goal of understanding what my partner is trying to express
even when I don't like or agree with what I'm hearing. I actively listen
to what my partner is expressing, so I avoid thinking about anything
else, including formulating a rebuttal. Instead, I give my full
attention to hearing what my partner is trying to communicate. In
addition, I let my partner know that she has been heard. For example:
“So, what you're saying is that
if I don't call you when I'm running late, it worries you, so you'd like
me to give you a heads up. Is that right?"
PROBLEM SOLVING begins after we have skillfully expressed ourselves
and skillfully listened to each other, so that our opinions and feelings
about an issue are on the table, face up, for both to see. The goal of
creative problem solving is to study ALL the data on the table in search
of a creative solution that will meet both of our needs
reasonably well, which most
likely will involve negotiation, compromise, and thinking outside the
box. It may take a few minutes or many days to find a workable solution
depending upon the complexity of the problem, but the beauty of this
process is that it eliminates the power struggle whereby if I win, you
lose, and vice versa. Instead, creative problem solving allows us both
Skill #4: RESPONSIBLE FOLLOW THROUGH means we each must
do what we have agreed to do because no matter how well we negotiate a
solution, it will be meaningless without follow through. Responsible
follow through builds the trust that forms the foundation of all healthy
relationships, and without it, trust erodes, and a healthy relationship
is Carl's 5-minute YouTube video of this article:
So, if you and your partner are having the same old arguments repeatedly,
then you must take an honest look at what the two of you are
·Are you able to skillfully express yourself?
·Is your partner able to skillful express his or her self?
·Are you able to skillfully listen to your partner?
·Is your partner able to skillfully listen to you?
·Are you both able to practice creative problem solving?
·Do you follow through with what you have agreed to?
·Does your partner follow through with what he or she has agreed to?
If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” then you may have
identified where your relationship's conflict resolution and
communication skills have
broken down. Discuss the “no” areas with your partner to see if he or
she is willing to work on improving or learning the deficient skills. If
you seem unable to learn these skills on your own as a couple, then you
should seek professional help, which would represent a major investment
in the health and future of your relationship.
you'd like help improving your conflict resolution and communication skills, then click
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