Monday, June 6, 2011

Handling Conflict In Families

In the previous post, we talked about building trust in families and how that was an important part of creating an atmosphere of teamwork in your home. In this post, we will talk a little bit about another crucial part of creating a team - being ok with conflict.

What does it look like when family’s are NOT ok with conflict?
Families that aren’t ok with conflict might get bored with each other. If they have family meetings, the meetings might seem kind of superficial. There may be a lot of talking about other members behind each other’s backs. Families that aren’t ok with conflict might avoid discussing important topics because they are controversial and they might not share (or ask for) the opinions of other people in their family.

What does it look like when family’s ARE ok with conflict?
Families that are ok with conflict are able to disagree respectfully with each other. They understand that people have different ideas and opinions and that being able to voice our opinions gives us a feeling of importance and belonging to a group. Families that are ok with conflict are able to “clear the air” of resentments. They understand that sometimes disagreements can act to motivate us to change. Families that are ok with conflict also look for “win-win” solutions, rather than “win-lose” or “lose-lose (often veiled as compromise)” solutions. When they disagree, they try to hear the other side, rather than try to “win” the fight.

Ways you can be “ok with conflict” in your family.
In the Five Dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni, conflict is described as a continuum with “artificial harmony” on one end and “mean-spirited personal attacks” on the other. Healthy teams shoot for a spot on the Harmony side near the middle.

Every family has certain rules that are not negotiable. But often parents turn everything into a “nonnegotiable,” forcing other members of the family into feeling like they have no control. When it comes to things like choosing what is for dinner, or how to spend a Saturday afternoon, welcome feedback and debate! It will build on trust and foster communication, independence, self esteem AND teamwork. Encourage family members to express their views and feelings in respectful ways to each other (no yelling, insulting, talking down to others, etc.).
o    Define the conflict. Work together to make sure members know exactly what the problem is in clear and specific language.
o    Reflect back. Control your passions! Repeat back to the other members what they are asking for and what they are needing to ensure each person understands and each person feels heard. Ask them to do the same.
o    Be optimistic and make it clear that the goal is to come to a win-win whenever possible.
o    Accept that conflict can be a little uncomfortable, and that’s ok.

Remember: It’s not the end of the world if a family member steps over the line. In fact, working through controversy and conflict as a team and in a respectful way helps each individual member develop confidence in the family as a group!  

How does your family respond when there is disagreement? Does everyone have the opportunity to be heard?

Heather Remer, INCAF

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  1. Heather, this is a terrific post! What we decide about conflict as children is what we take into adulthood with us. It will influence us in the workplace, within our marriages, with our friends and with our own children. For children to have the experience of healthy conflict resolution is awesome!

    Thanks and this is going in Parenting News!
    Maggie Macaulay, MS Ed

  2. Thank you. I agree, and until we step back, look at those patterns we developed as children, and then make a conscious effort to change, "what we resist will persist!"