'If you've got a problem with someone don't tell everyone else, tell them.'
This is my mantra, but even knowing what I know I've still shied away from some of the most difficult confrontations.
I could blame my childhood; I grew up in a household that never openly discussed problems. My father raged, my mother shrank, I hid in my room doing my own thing then eventually left. Even in my mother's last few months I didn't dare talk about the things that were really in my heart because I had tried, and hit a wall of silence. Conflict is hard, and many of us choose a different path for fear of hurting those we love or the tiger that might lie around the bend.
As an adult I've had to learn to express myself better. Early on, my emotions would annoyingly make me go all squeaky and tearful, so I'd be unable to vocalise my thoughts. Instead, I learned to take the high ground; I'd either quietly hold my position and wait out the storm, or withdraw and continue to do precisely what I wanted, allowing the rude, shouty people to shame themselves with their awful behaviour. Of course, in my mind they were shaming themselves, they probably thought they were right and that my withdrawal proved it.
For me, the worst is the person who cries when I tell them what I think. They will inevitably make me feel like I'm a bad person, so I withdraw. But submission breeds resentment toward the person you've sacrificed your feelings for. It eats away at you and destroys the relationship. Learning conflict management skills for this episode has given me a new burst confidence in expressing my thoughts, even with those people.
It's not just a personal issue. Society is built on the need to reconcile different needs to make life better for the majority (or whichever philosophical belief you hold). I recently listened to The Witch Trials of JK Rowling, in which the narrator explained how the online world has become populated with silos of thought. Tumbler is at one end, where people can indulge their fantasy personas, safe from the slings and arrows of the general public. 4Chan is the other extreme, where it's most popular board is a forum for - mostly - young men to express their most obscenely nasty thoughts. These are places where there are no conflict negotiations needed. If you don't like what someone says you can vent at them hidden behind a persona or shut your laptop.
When our kids spend a lot of time online they're not getting any practice at getting along with real people, which is a vital skill. In some ways I don't blame them for fleeing to endless TikTok reels of sped-up songs and silly dancing. In the real world real people are being shut down and real careers ended for expressing even a considered opinion. My kids are increasingly scared to speak their minds or question anyone in public because they see adult academics having their careers destroyed simply for stating their case.
This is clearly an unhealthy paradigm for all of us. I want my kids to grow up skilled in weeding out the nonsense, shouty arguments that they can't win, and being able to engage in honest searches for truth. That needs to start in the home; in an environment where it is safe to speak your mind and know you will still be loved, and where being challenged to clarify your thinking doesn't feel like a life or death situation. Conflict management skills cost nothing, but to me they are as valuable as precious jewels to be passed on to my kids.
Most of all, these skills give us a clear path through difficult situations. We can tell when someone is using a tactic to try and end the search for truth. We can draw them back in or give up, knowing that it's a pointless exercise.
It also gives us the tools to be honest in our relationships with all the benefits of a much deeper understanding and respect for each other.
So, here a reminder of the the skills that I learned from the book:
Pick a moment to state your case. Do not small talk beforehand, because they will sense you have an agenda, which will make it more uncomfortable and less authentic.
O - state an objective fact. When I always have to collect the kids from school.
F - say how it makes you feel. It makes me feel stressed.
A - how it affects you. Because I don't have enough time in the day to exercise whilst I can see that you have time to exercise regularly.
Pause to hear their response, which is likely to be negative because nobody likes to be told that they are doing/not doing things that upset others. During this stage pay full attention to their body language, face them and be open to whatever they say.
Listen Until they Feel Understood.
When they tell you what they think, feed back to them what they have said to ensure you've understood it properly. You may have to go through the OFA/LUFU cycle a few times in order to get to the point where you both feel that you've been understood.
Now you can move to the point at which you discuss a solution that you can both accept.
If it’s a conflict about value or emotions:Use this 3-step conflict resolution method and the emotional bond is often strengthened.
If it’s a conflict about needs:You only need the collaborative problem-solving method. Take the objective needs of everyone then collaboratively brain storm what solutions might work best. Your teen wants to go to a party. You want to know that they are safe. Once you have both stated your needs you can both brainstorm together what answers might suit both of you.
These are deep level skills which take time to practice and involve a willingness and trust on both sides. As parents, it's our responsibility to develop them in our teens. Talk them through the techniques, practice them in our homes, and role play how they can use them on their friends.
The more of us who can use these skills and spread the word, the more we all win.