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  • Writer's pictureParker Hewes

How to Deal with conflict


I've had plans to start this blog and podcast series for 4 years now. But I went back and forth in my mind about whether it was worth my time, whether people would care, or if I could even make some money from it someday. In the end, the questions were never really about my time and money, though. What I was really asking was, "Am I good enough?" Am I worth it?"


Am I good enough? Am I worth it? Yes, of course. Everyone is. And the sooner we realize that the happier we will be. But who are you answering the question for? Are you good enough for who?... For others, or for yourself? This is the question I want to explore today.


In my opinion, it really doesn't matter what anyone says about your worth. Of course you want to be liked and have a community of people to share life with, but you have no control over someone else's response to you, your words, or your personality. Someone's interpretation or reaction is exclusively their own. They have every right to react exactly how they choose. And yes, it is a choice. Often times, your reaction doesn't feel like a choice, because it comes so automatically, but it is. It's a choice based on passed experiences, pre-programmed responses, your current emotional state, etc. And unless someone has serious imbalances in hormonal, neurological, or emotional functioning, we all have the ability to counteract our passed programming and be able to respond exactly the way we want (more on this in another article). We also cannot fault others for responding in a way that we don't like. Again, they have every right to react how they want. Whether that reaction lines up with what you wanted is truly a waste of your mental attention. You can't control their reaction, so there's no use stressing over how you can change someone else's response after the fact.



However, what you CAN control are some of the events leading up to your friend's unwanted response. Maybe you could have phrased a sentence to be less triggering. Maybe you could have been more communicative and shared your intentions ahead of time (the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. I think we would all get along better if we shared all of our intentions fully and honestly, setting expectations completely so that others are not surprised or let down by the result). So, when you find yourself in a situation where someone has reacted in a non-ideal way, take responsibility for the ways you can improve. In fact, these are the only thoughts you want to have rolling around in your head: How can I improve? What do I need in order for me to feel satisfied about this interaction (or similar situations in the future)?


Be completely selfish. But do so in a way that makes you and others "gooder" as a result. There's no place for pointing fingers other than straight back at yourself. Every time, your first reaction should be "what can I do better? what do I need to feel better?"


Now, I am not saying take the blame for everything. In the same way that each person has control over their actions and reactions, each person also has the freedom to take ownership of those actions. Taking ownership, after all, is a reaction in itself. So, don't take on any more ownership than is necessary or healthy. It takes two to tango, and it is not your responsibility to take all the heat when you are only half of the equation.


I'll admit, though, that sometimes this approach will feel like you are taking the brunt of all the blame, because you will always feel like you are the first to apologize or take ownership of an issue. But you know what, good. Don't you want to be known as someone who takes responsibility for their shortfalls? Someone who is constantly trying to improve and grow? That's what it means to show good character. Being selfish and taking ownership of your mistakes is the ultimate sign of selflessness. That's how you leave a legacy of goodness on the world.


There's a reason I keep saying take ownership instead of take the blame, though. It's because there's a big difference. Namely, it's about where the finger is pointing, and who that finger belongs to. Again, the only place your finger should be pointing is straight back at your direction, that's taking responsibility. When we take responsibility for our actions, then they have ownership over those actions, and we are more empowered to change. We have to allow others to take responsibility for their actions, too. We can give them insights into how we feel about a situation, but we have to trust and respect their ability (and their right) to choose. By blaming someone, we rob them of their right to choose, and thus take away their opportunity to be self-empowered. And without a self-empowered reason to change, we are unlikely to see a difference in their behavior. In order for someone to change, they have to want to change. Don't point figures and take that power away from someone. Besides, it'll unlikely that either of you will end up getting what you want. The other person will feel threatened and defensive, and you will see little to no progress towards the changes you hope to see in them.


Similarly, taking blame is like grabbing someone else's hand and pointing it at yourself on their behalf. When you do that, you're robbing yourself of the chance and the ability to change. You can't get "gooder" if you keep blaming yourself. You get gooder by saying "yep, I did that, and I can be better." Then, you figure out what you need to do to be better. That's ownership and action at work. Blame is just a punishment with no solution. There's no cause for action, just ridicule and harmful self-talk.


In other words, there's no place for blaming in life. Blame is a useless verb, so don't use it on yourself or others. When we blame ourselves or others, we become victims of our actions, not owners. Blame is victimizing, ownership is empowering.


However, when it comes to changing the behavior of others, you can still have an impact. There's no guarantee or expectation that they will change, but there are ways to navigate a conversation that allows someone the choice to change without placing blame on them. My favorite method I one learned from the book, Nonviolent Communication.

The premise is that you take time to really look inside yourself and figure out what you need to feel satisfied. Then, you ask the other person if they'd be willing to behave in a certain way in order to help satisfy that need. You take ownership of your needs and then ask others to help you fulfill those needs.


So, when you feel hurt or wronged or have a negative reaction to someone/something, I suggest following these steps:

1. Ask yourself, "Why did I react/feel that way? Have my past experiences informed how I reacted to this scenario? How can I control my response right now and in the future?"

2. Can anything change about this situation? Explore whether or not there were aspects of the situation that could have changed that would have helped you react more positively. These examples may come more naturally, since it is our tendency to find blame in others and find ways our external environment can change before we change ourselves (however, with practice and repetition, taking ownership will start to be your natural reaction).

3. Is it worth it to ask for change? If you found something to change about the situation (the sequence events, words used, tone of voice, etc.), ask yourself if it is worth it to try to change those things. Ask yourself again if your passed experiences and your past programming is making you so reactive to this moment. And if it's truly not a YOU thing, is it worth changing? In other words, maybe the thing isn't big or hairy enough to have such an elaborate discussion about. Maybe you can just brush it off and say, "this really didn't effect me that much, I just had a reaction that was much bigger than the situation warranted."

If your upcoming conversation isn't going to have any significant impact on making yourself or someone else a better human, then it might not be worth the discussion. You might be better off moving on with your life. Reliving a trivial experience may not be all that helpful or worthwhile in the grand scheme of things.

4. Summarize your thoughts so far: You've found something to change. This change is important enough to discuss because it will create improvement and goodness in your world. This changeable thing goes beyond what you perceive to be a YOU thing, because it's more than just your preprogrammed response to past emotional trauma, turmoil, or life experiences.

5. If you've made it this far, you are ready to ask for help. Here's how you ask for it in a way that still puts the ownership on yourself, while allowing others to decide whether or not they'd be willing or able to help you achieve this change.

You say to the other person(s): "For me to feel happy/good/satisfied, I have found that I really need ________. So, when _________ happens, would you be willing to do __________ for me? It would really help. Thank you."


Here's an example from my own life:

First, a little backstory is that I was a mildly rebellious kid who liked to push boundaries and test the rules, especially my dad's rules. I was a questioner and I was stubborn about making mistakes rather than taking someone's word for it. So, my dad and I have never had a strong relationship.

Fast forward to about a month ago, my dad I were visiting California and I asked to use his rental car to spend time with my friends at night. He said yes, but when I returned, he was notably upset that I had left him to just sit in the hotel without a vehicle to use. He was in California to visit me, and I left him alone with nothing to do. I responded poorly at first, saying that I asked permission and he said it was okay. Then, I remembered to take ownership of my actions, and I quickly apologized for the things I had done wrong. However, this was not what my dad wanted to hear. He seemed to be getting more agitated as I showed remorse and admitted my faults. He yelled and screamed for a while why I continued to outwardly admit my faults and asked him why he was still so angry. He ended up storming out of the room while I packed my things to leave the hotel. I called my sister moments later, telling her that if I ever made plans to hang out with my dad one-on-one again, I wanted her to stop me. I never wanted to spend time alone with him again. It always ended with a fight when we were together, and I was fed up.

I haven't seen my dad since then. He flew home early while I stayed in LA and went on the solo backpacking trip that we were supposed to experience together. Since then, I've only shared a couple of texts with him over the last few weeks.

Let's go through my thought process of how I plan to use my nonviolent communication strategy when I see me dad again.

1. Why did I react that way? Answer: I felt fed up with my dad, to the point of never wanting to spend time alone with him again. I felt this way because of the history of tension him and I have had over the years. Even though this fight was a trivial subject, it felt like the last straw, making me feel unwilling to deal with it again. My past experiences have definitely contributed to my reaction to this scenario, but I'd like to control my response to this specific scenario while showing forgiveness for the past. I can't control the past, I can only control my response right now. So, I'd like to take this circumstance as a standalone event, without a memory of past wrongdoings.

2. What could I change about this situation? Answer: Among the things I would like to change, I would have liked it if my dad accepted my apologies and helped me understand some productive ways to make him feel happier or satisfied in the future. I would have liked a more productive, rather than angry response.

3. Are these changes worthwhile? Answer: I think these changes would make each of us happier and better people. There are aspects of these changes that are ME things, but other aspects that are truly not a ME thing. It is worth asking for these changes because if it is not resolved, I will continue to feel like I don't want to spend one-on-one time with my dad. But I truly want to have a strong relationship with dad, so I want to ask him for help.

4. Summarize my thoughts so far. Answer: I had a reaction to our fight that was more extreme than someone would expect from such a trivial disagreement. This response was largely due to my past experiences with my dad. I have found some things that I would like to change, and those things are important enough to have a discussion. I think having the discussion will help us both react more positively and kindly in the future, and it will make our time together more pleasant.

5. Here's how I plan to ask him for help:

"Dad, I really want to have a good relationship with you. The last time we hung out, I think we would both agree that it wasn't the best example of what a good relationship looks like. I've been thinking a lot about it, and I realized that in order for me to feel good about our relationship, I really need to feel like we are not in competition with each other, but on the same team. When we get into an argument, I need to feel like we are working towards a productive solution rather than further dividing from each other. So, if an argument starts to build in the future, I am going to take a breath and calmly ask you if I said or did something which triggered the tension that is growing between us. When I want to have pleasant conversations with you, so I'll be asking you these things because I want to know how I can help get us back to having a pleasant experience. When I ask you those questions, would you be willing to give me some structure around what you are looking for to feel happy and satisfied, too? Would you be able to tell me how you feel and give me some concrete examples of what you need differently? I know there will be things that I need to work on, so I would like to take ownership of those things. But I'm not very good at knowing how other people are feeling unless they tell me with some specific instructions. Would you be willing to give me some instructions like that?"

I seriously might read this exact paragraph to him word for word. It's clunky, unnatural, and a little cheesy, but it works better than a having a shouting match.


It's possible that my dad will be unwilling or unable to give me specific, productive instructions. If so, I am okay with that. I will have some difficult decisions about whether or not I'll spend one-on-one time with him in the future, but I give him complete control over his own decisions. He is not obligated to do anything for me. When we ask for help, we need to allow others to choose how they will respond. Their actions are their own responsibility, and they can choose to act and react however they please. You're responsibility is to accept their reaction and decide what you will do next. If they say they are unwilling or unable to help you satisfy your needs, you have to accept that. You're only job is to decide your next steps. Be honest with yourself about what you need and want, then react in a way that is intentional/ That's the only thing you can control. And it's the only thing worth worrying about.


If someone agrees to help you fulfill your needs, don't expect immediate change. All of us have embedded beliefs, habits, and pre-conditions that take a lot of repetition and practice to change. Be ready to remind the other person of the behavioral agreement you made. Of course, this is still not a time for blame. Saying, "I asked you to do this thing, and you keep NOT doing it," will not go over well. They probably realize their mistake and feel bad about it already. Casting blame in this moment will put most people on the defensive. Instead, practice the same techniques above. Use introspection, compassion, empathy, and kindness to remind them of the agreement. Try something like this: "Hey, do you remember what we talked about before? This is one of those moments where I could really use your help because I'm feeling _______. I know you're not used to doing the things I was asking for, and I know how hard it is. There's a lot of things I'm trying to change and reprogram in my life, too. So I'm just reminding you about this because I would want you to do the same for me. Is there any way I can help you with this in the future? Can I do something differently in these situations to help accomplish what I'm asking for?"


In any situation, there will almost always be a way to turn the conflict/argument into an "I need this, can you help me" type of conversation. It may take some creativity, and it will absolutely feel a little forced or unnatural at times, but all hard things feel unnatural. That's called discomfort, and we need discomfort to grow.


So, every time you feel yourself having a negative reaction, don't be afraid to ask for help. Even if the situation doesn't involve others, you can still ask them if they'd be willing to help you. If they say no, you'll still be in the same spot you were before you asked. So why not just do it and see if they say yes?


I'll admit, I have a hard time running through these steps in the heat of an impeding argument. So, I've found that it helps to completely stop the conversation and take a step away from the emotionally heightened scenario. That way, you can calm your mind and give yourself some time to think about the nonviolent communication techniques. I imagine most of you will appreciate this strategy, even though stepping away from an argument may feel like the hardest things you'll ever do. I'm not going to lie, it's very difficult. When our blood is boiling and it feels like our core values are being insulted, our animalistic brain is telling every cell in our body to fight, kill, win! But for the health of yourself and your relationships, I urge you to resist those urges. If you feel yourself getting riled up, ask for a moment to step away and gather your thoughts. I promise you it will be the best decision you will make.


Just take a step back and think about what you need. Assess the situation and the importance of this conflict. Then, ask for help.


Trust me, if I can do it, so can you. But I still have a long way to go, too. If there's one thing you can expect, it's failure. For instance, that moment with my dad would have been a prime time to ask for a few minutes to gather my thoughts. Instead it turned into a blow up. Clearly, I'm still working on practicing what I preach. But all we can ask from ourselves is to get gooder one step at a time. I trust you'll get there, too. Have patience and treat yourself with the same compassion I'm asking you to give to others. The old adage, "treat others how you want to be treated," applies to self-talk, too. Treat YOURSELF how you want to be treated. Because when you take ownership of your behaviors, you will frequently realize there are a lot of things you need to work on. This realization will inevitably raise questions like the ones posed at the top of the article: "Am. I. Good. Enough." I hope with all of my being that none of us will ever have to ask that question again. But we will. And it will often be hard to answer. At the very least, though, I need all of you to show compassion with yourself as you work towards getting to an emphatic "YES, I am good enough, and I always will be!" Because good enough will never mean perfection. Good enough is simply good enough. It leaves room for being a work in progress. It leaves room for showing patience and compassion for ourselves.


You're here, you're good, and you're getting gooder. So press on. That's good enough.


 

Written by Parker Hewes, a chiropractor, author, American Ninja Warrior, and serial adventurer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. Parker believes learning and growing are the keys to living a full life. He started Getting Gooder to help others learn and grow, so they can create the happiest, healthiest, and wealthiest lives imaginable.

Parker also knows that our ideal life gets even better when we have others to share it with. So, keep following Parker and the Getting Gooder community as we build our ideal, together.

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