Tag Archives: resolving conflict

Taking the Negativity out of Conflict

Last month, we had a guest speaker at my church – Tim Dawes, an author, consultant and TEDx speaker – who offered a powerful approach to conflict based in compassion and respect.


When you find yourself in a conflict you can’t see a way out of:

  1. Drop whatever approach is putting you at odds. (Arguing, accusing, making threats, trying to change their mind or change their behavior.)
  2. Shift your focus to the other person’s perspective. What is their experience / how are they feeling?
  3. Give – Acknowledge what they want, validate their experience. You really need to accept and respect that this is their experience. (Note, this is not necessarily saying that they’re “right”, just acknowledging their view.)

This creates a connection between you and the other person. After you do these three steps, it is as if you have set a place at the table for their needs. Then you can bring your needs to the table and can sit down and have a real conversation about how to move forward. You may see new options you didn’t see before, and may be able to quickly negotiate solutions that work for both of you.

If you are feeling wronged or hurt, it can be hard to let go of arguing. If you’re a parent, it’s hard to let go of teaching and correcting. If you have strong opinions, it can be hard to let go of trying to convince someone you’re right and they’re wrong. But arguing, correcting and convincing can prolong an argument.


My oldest child resisted putting toys away. It was an on-going conflict where I battled him again and again. At one point, I dropped my usual tactics for a moment and asked him to explain things from his perspective. He said that when all the toys were put away, the house looked like a place where no one was allowed to have fun. I acknowledged that this was his truth. Then we sat down and negotiated some compromises we could both live with.

My youngest got into a battle at school today. He was upset at getting tagged out in gaga ball. When someone else tried to get him to calm down by saying “it’s just a game”, that upset him more. Rather than try to convince him that he should relax and that a game is not worth getting upset over, I dropped that approach and shifted to curiosity – asking him to explain his perspective. He shared that games are really important to him, whether that’s gaga ball or video games or a board game, and he doesn’t like that people trivialize them all the time. Spending some time talking about his thoughts on this and validating them “brought him to the table” to where we could have a conversation about how he could have reacted differently today.

I appreciated learning this new tool for approaching conflict and look forward to exploring it more.

When You…. I Feel… I Wish….

conflict res

In Honest, Direct, Respectful: Three Simple Words that will Change your Life, Dennis Adams describes a three step process for communicating your needs to others. This can be used in times of conflict to share your feelings and work toward a mutual resolution.

  1. Identify the behavior: “When you….”  The more concrete and specific you can be, the better.
  2. Identify the feeling: “I feel…” and then state the emotion (e.g. “I feel sad…” or angry… or disappointed.) Be careful not to say “I feel like….” because then you may be tempted to say “I feel like you are ignoring me” which is your interpretation of their intent, it is not how you feel because of their behavior.
  3. Identify something you want, wish, or wonder. You might use “I want” with someone you supervise – a child or employee – to tell them what action you want (and expect) them to take. “I wonder” is a continuation of your feeling statement: “I wonder if you notice what I do for you?” And “I wish” says what you want, without telling them that they have to do it for you.

Imagine if you said, in frustration: “You never pick up around the house. I always have to do all the work.” That would likely put your partner on the defensive, and it’s easy to get into a battle of one-up-manship where you both pull out all your martyr cards about how hard you work and how unappreciated you are. Instead, try:

“When you leave your piles of clean laundry in the TV room, I feel stressed that our house doesn’t feel like someplace I can relax. I wish the house was tidier so we could both enjoy our time here together.”

This re-frames the situation to you working together as allies toward a mutual goal.

Let’s look at a few more examples.

Instead of “You don’t care about this project – you never even respond to my emails!”, try “When you don’t respond to my emails, I feel frustrated, and I wonder whether you really want to work on this project with me.”

Instead of “You need to get your act together and be on time”, try “When you’re late to meet me, I feel unloved, and I also feel frustrated that I’m wasting time waiting for you. I wish you could be on time or let me know when you’re running late.”

Instead of “You’re so rude to people! Why are you such a jerk?”, try “When you interrupted her when she was speaking, I felt really uncomfortable. I wonder if you realize that could seem disrespectful to her?”

Instead of saying to your child “I’ve told you 1000 times not to leave your shoes all over the house”, try “When you leave your shoes all over the house, I feel frustrated. When we ran late to school three days this week because you couldn’t find the shoes you wanted, I felt mad. I want you to always take your shoes off and put them on the shelf as soon as we get home, so we can easily find them when you need them.”

This model is reminiscent of Marshall Rosenberg, and his model of Non-Violent Communication. I’ve written a handout on using a variant of his model to Communicating what You Really Need.

Test it out this week – it’s an easy method you can use with your kids, partner, co-workers, or anyone you’re feeling in conflict with.

Click here for a free downloadable worksheet on using this Conflict Resolution tool.

To see all my posts on relationship skills, click here.

Resolving Differences with Grandparents / Extended Family

Having extended family members involved in your child’s life can be a blessing. But challenges often arise…

Most Common Issues

  • Different expectations for involvement: They’re less involved than you’d hoped, and/or not helping in the way you’d hoped. For example, you hoped they would babysit based on your schedule – when you need them. Instead, they schedule times that work for them.
  • Advice. They may offer advice that you feel is outdated, or feel comes from a different perspective on parenting that’s not in line with your values.
  • Judgment. Their suggestions for improvement feel like they’re judging you to be a bad parent.
  • Failure to listen. It may seem they ignore your requests, or do the opposite of what you ask.
  • Spoiling. Our culture implies this is part of the grandparent’s job. Also, they may have regrets about ways they “failed” you as a parent, and view this as an opportunity to make up for that.

These challenges can make it difficult to maintain a relationship. But there are good reasons to do so:

Benefits of grandparents / extended family

  • Love: Extended family can offer unconditional love. Because they are not involved in the logistics of the child’s everyday life, they may be able to accept and celebrate the child just as he is. They don’t need to make the child do chores, or scold them for undone homework.
  • Safety to explore: A grandparents’ home may be the first place your child sleeps without you there by their side. It lets them practice separation.
  • Companionship: Grandparents may have time to slow down and just hang out with your child.
  • Assistance: Some family members help out several times a week with child care and other tasks, some aren’t but are available in times of crisis when you really need someone.
  • Identity and history: Extended family can help your child feel more grounded in the world – offering a better sense of where they come from and what kind of person they may become.

Issue: Different expectations. Solution: Try to see things from their perspective

If their involvement is different than you hoped, don’t assume you know why. Talking with them may reveal a variety of reasons why their expectations of themselves as grandparents differs from yours:

  • They may feel like they gave many years of their lives to parenting, and feel ready for a bit of a break to do some of the other things they enjoy.
  • They may want to be more involved, but have too many other commitments to make time.
  • They may have anxiety about whether they can do a good job, and may hold back.
  • They may be trying not to “step on your toes” and waiting to be invited to participate more.

Have a clear discussion with them about how involved they would like to be / are able to be.

Issue: Advice. Solution: Share What You Know / Believe, and Listen to what they Know

  • Talk with them about the parenting choices you are making, and your reasons for doing so.
  • Arm them with current information: Share articles and websites. Invite them to pediatrician’s appointments or parenting classes with you. Take a baby safety class together.
  • Ask their advice from time to time. They may then give less unsolicited advice at other times. Listen to them: they’ve parented before… they may well have wisdom you can benefit from!
  • Help them feel important, included, and needed: Give them things to do rather than telling them what not to do.

At some point, you may need to say: “Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. But, this is how we are choosing to parent our child, and we ask that you honor that and follow what we do.”

Issue: Judgment. Solution: Assume the Best

Assume that they want the best for you and for your child(ren). They may have a different definition of what that looks like, but their heart is likely to be in the right place.

They may feel confident about the way they parented their children, so have confidence that they can do well with yours. They also can’t help but remember you as a child who needed help learning how to use the potty, tie a shoe, walk to school, and learn to drive. There are times it’s hard for your parents to remember that you’re a grown-up and let you find your own path.

If they question your judgment in front of the child (“I don’t know why your parents won’t let you do this… I would let you do it”), let them know that’s not acceptable. They need to show respect of you and help reinforce your authority, not diminish it. Tell them that if there’s something they’re really concerned about, you would like them to speak to you out of the child’s hearing.

Issue: Failure to Listen. Solution: Adjust how you communicate

Sometimes when we’re not being heard, it’s because we’re speaking a different language. Try to see the world from their perspective and think about how you might say things differently.

When possible, listen to them, and show a willingness to compromise / meet them halfway.

Issue: Spoiling / Over-Indulging. Solution: pick your battles, and enforce limits

It can be exhausting, and damaging to a relationship, to squabble over every difference. However, as the parent, you have the right to set limits on acceptable behavior, safety issues, and “spoiling”.

Pick your battles. Some of the less important things you can let slide. Maybe you have a no screen time policy at your house, but your family member likes watching children’s shows with your child. It’s OK if your extended family does some things differently than you do. For example, when your child goes to the grocery store with grandpa, he may always get candy from the gumball machine. When you go to the store, you can say no to that, letting him know that’s grandpa’s special treat.

But, if grandparents say yes to something that you feel strongly about, that can make it harder for you to enforce limits. Ask for their help on this… Make sure they know what are the essential limits for you, so they can reinforce those as unbreakable rules.

Issue: Your Family vs. your partner’s family. Solution: Ally with your partner

You may find that you get along fine with your family, but your in-laws make you crazy. Or vice versa! You may love the way one family interacts with your child, but hate how the other family does. Talk with your partner first to figure out what your challenges and goals are with each family, and communicate with both families as a team.