Are you looking for conflict resolution strategies that work? Are you the type of person who likes to fix things? Does living with tension make you anxious? If you answer “Yes!” to any of these questions, then these ideas are for you.
Conflict Resolution and the Desire to Fix: Our Story
My wife, Jenny, recently pointed out that I had fallen into the trap of stinking thinking. The two of us were getting ready for bed when Jenny blurted out, “You know you’re not going to be able to fix this, right? So you might as well stop stressing over it.” Jenny knows me well. We just finished a conversation where I was trying to “fix” an ongoing relationship problem. By the look on my face, Jenny could tell that the wheels in my head were still spinning. I was relentlessly searching for a solution.
Yet, Jenny knew that no matter how hard I tried, the glorious solution would not be found. Albert Ellis, the renowned therapist and founder of rational emotive behavioral therapy, referred to ongoing attempts to fix as “musterbation.” Ellis used this crude term to describe the act of mulling something repeatedly in one’s mind. Musterbation occurs when we tell ourselves the world must work in a certain manner, and people must behave in a certain way.
In my case, I was telling myself that I must find a way to resolve this ongoing tension. You see, I don’t like having people upset with me. The problem is that I have someone in my life that has been angry with me for almost ten years. Moreover, for nearly a decade, I have been telling myself, “I should and must find a solution.” Fortunately, I have a wife who can gently remind me when it’s time to let go.
The Desire to Fix and the Righting-Reflex
Therapists skilled in motivational interviewing use the term “righting-reflex” to describe humanity’s desire to take what is wrong with the world and make it right. On the positive side, people with an active righting-reflex have good relationships with others. When problems arise, the righting-reflex kicks in, and creative solutions are formed. On the other hand, those with an overactive righting-reflex put themselves under undue stress when issues are not immediately resolved.
If you are like me and find yourself thinking, “I must fix this and make things right,” here are some important things to remember:
Conflict Resolution Insights
Conflict Resolution Insight #1: It’s okay to live in tension.
Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Although this Scripture acknowledges that living in peace is preferred, it also recognizes that the ideal may not be possible. Living at peace requires the active participation of both parties. I have been learning that resolution is not always possible. When this is in that case, it is okay to live in the tension.No matter how hard we try, we cannot change someone else. Click To Tweet
Feelings are highly personal, and everyone is entitled to their emotions. Some people need to feel frustrated and upset. While this may not be preferable, it is okay. One of my favorite professors used to say, “How another person reacts often says a lot more about what is going on inside of them than it does about you.”
Some people have a lot to be angry about. The saying, “hurt people, hurt people,” is true. People who hurt often damage those around them and are easily wounded by others. If someone close to you is using you as an emotional release for past pain, it is highly unlikely that you will fix this. By the way, this doesn’t mean you should allow yourself to become someone’s emotional punching-bag either. Neither endless attempts to fix nor taking the brunt of other people’s emotional storms are healthy solutions. We will get to positives actions that you can take in a minute. However, the first step is to acknowledge that the problem is not going to be resolved. Sometimes it’s best to let go of the need to fix and choose to live in the tension.
Conflict Resolution Insight #2: Some people need drama.
Good reality, television is drama-filled. Although having drama is painful, it has many secondary gains. Drama is exciting and entertaining. Dramatic people are experts at gaining the attention of others. They view a drama-free life is boring. After all, some attention is better than no attention at all.
In prison, solitary confinement is the harshest form of discipline. People who feel ignored may stir-up conflict to get their need for attention met. While generating drama isn’t healthy, it is effective. Not everyone desires to live at peace, and peaceable relationships require harmonious actions from both parties. This is another reason that you and I may need to learn to live in the tension.We can't eliminate tension, but we can choose how we will respond to it. Click To Tweet
Conflict Resolution Strategies
Learning to thrive in the midst of tense situations has been an ongoing process. At times, I have allowed my overactive righting-reflex to keep me awake at night. Toning down my righting-reflex and living joyfully in the tension is something I am learning to do. Here is a four-part process that has proven helpful:
Conflict Resolution Strategy #1: Seek to resolve tensions first.
Of course, conflict resolution is always ideal. There are many excellent ways to do this. Most are commonsense and include:
- Brainstorming solutions
- Looking for win-win strategies, and
- Enlisting the support of others
Conflict Resolution Strategy #2: Agree to disagree.
When finding a resolution is not possible, the next step is to agree to disagree. It is perfectly okay for two people to see things differently. It is also entirely possible for two people to disagree without becoming disagreeable.
Perhaps you absolutely know that the other person is wrong. That is okay too. Allow others to learn from their mistakes. Likely, there were times in your life when you had to learn the hard way. The best friendships are built on mutual respect, not on 100% agreement.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #3: Set healthy boundaries.
Sometimes maintaining a positive relationship despite disagreements isn’t possible. If the other person refuses to let go of their anger, cannot be in your presence without bringing up the argument, or is seeking to hurt you as a way of showing just how upset they are, the next step is to set boundaries in place.
Boundaries are a natural part of life and are all around us. Skin, fences, our house, and clothing are all examples of everyday boundaries. Boundaries keep the good in and the bad out.
As I continued my endless search for resolution, Jenny’s words encouraged me to set a boundary in place. The boundary involved putting an end to my search and going to sleep. Boundaries for fixers include:
- Choosing not to be sucked into the argument.
- Making up one’s mind that living in the tension is okay.
- Limiting the time spent thinking about the problem.
- Limiting contact with angry, high-conflict people.
Conflict Resolution Strategy #4: Remain open to future resolution.
Boundaries are a means of protecting ourselves and those we love. They do not have to stay in place forever. Sometimes tensions dissipate with time. Deciding to live with the tension is about accepting reality while gracefully allowing the resolution to occur over time.
Continue the Conflict Resolution Conversation
Desiring to fix a problem is good. However, endlessly searching for resolution is exhausting. It takes time and attention away from the important people in our lives and solves little. If you have an overactive righting-reflex or are guilty of telling yourself that things “should” and “must” be a certain way, then you might want to join me in taking a break from the fixing. I hope that one-day the frictions in my life are resolved. Until then, I am learning to enjoy life in the midst of the tension. How about you?
Use these questions for reflection and discussion to dive deeper.
- Are you a fixer? How do you know?
- Which of the conflict resolution strategies in this post have you already used and how did they work?
- Which conflict resolution strategy do you most need to use?
- How will you begin to apply these ideas?
- What ideas would you add to this post?
Finally, be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments below. Jenny and I can’t wait to hear from you!