Great relationships develop not from the absence of conflict, but from determining an agreeable pattern for how to resolve conflict. Defining the rules of engagement for how you “fight” with someone you care about is ultimately much more important than trying to never have a disagreement.
If you care about someone, then consider adopting these 10 rules as part of the way you communicate with them when you are trying to resolve a conflict:
Rule #1: Don’t yell. Adding emotion clouds the clarity of what actually happened. If the other person is yelling, it becomes especially important that you don’t raise your voice so as to prevent a natural escalation of competing interests.
Rule #2: Always start and end the conversation by affirming that you care about the other person. In the midst of a disagreement, you can never underestimate the power and importance of reminding the other person that you care about them and believe in them.
Rule #3: Be open to the idea that you made a mistake even if you are sure you did not. People rarely get upset for no reason, so there is a good chance that there is at least a kernel of truth to what they are saying.
Rule #4: Don’t speak in generalities of another person’s behavior; speak only to direct examples and instances of action. It’s hard for anyone to own up to a generalization and so you’ll likely just see his or her defensiveness activate. By isolating an instance of fact, everyone can quickly see where he or she was right and wrong.
Rule #5: Always work to be the first to apologize when any dispute arises. Although the idea of waiting for the other person to apologize first seems vindicating, it’s actually a guaranteed sign of how you care more about being right than in coming to a reconciliation.
Rule #6: Focus on trying to discover what’s right, not who is right. When thinking about what happened, try to remove yourself from the situation and evaluate right and wrong based solely on the actions that took place regardless of which side you’re on. Treat it as if you are refereeing someone else’s game.
Rule #7: Do not cuss. Exaggerated language is often proof of an exaggerated understanding of what actually happened. If you swear, the other party is likely to only hear the expletives and will stop listening for any validity in what you’re saying.
Rule 8: No name-calling. Belittling a person always shifts the focus off of resolving the actual problem. Verbal abuse is never welcome to a conflict resolution party.
Rule #9: Remind yourself the other person also cares about reconciling the relationship. One of the fundamental causes of many disagreements is feeling hurt that the other person is no longer considering your perspective, but if they didn’t care about a resolution with you they wouldn’t be fighting for one.
Rule #10: Remind yourself to never expect the other person to fill a hole in your life that only they can fill. Sometimes we fall into the trap of placing improper expectations on other people because we are hoping for them to satisfy a need in our life that they are not really capable of satisfying.
If we are fighting with someone, it means we both care about finding the best course of action and we both care about preserving the relationship. If we didn’t care about one another, then we would just ignore each other and leave.
The reason these 10 rules are important is because as long as they are in place, then no disagreement or conflict will ever shake the critical bedrock of knowing that the other person cares about you. As long as we know the other person cares about us, it will give us a common ground to work from as we try to unite two seemingly conflicted views.