The Art of Conflict Resolution

Conflict is neither good nor bad.  How we handle a conflict, however, can determine whether the outcomes of the conflict are either constructive or destructive.  A well managed conflict can actually bring people closer together.  That said, an ineffectively handled conflict can severely damage relationships, not to mention leave important issues unresolved, which can have significant impacts upon various areas of a person’s life.  In fact, the renowned Psychiatrist Alfred Adler taught that difficulty with constructive cooperation with others is the major reason that people fail in the 5 Basic Life Tasks of Work, Love, Friendship, Belonging and Spirituality.  Helping people resolve conflicts cooperatively and constructively, therefore, is central to enabling them to become fulfilled and successful.  Toward this end, here are some guidelines and skills which can support constructive resolution of conflicts across a variety of situations.  I am outlining them as steps but they can be applied more flexibly in natural speech once one understands and internalizes the guiding principles behind the approach.  Furthermore, it is quite common for people to benefit from some coaching and facilitation when first replacing well established patterns of reacting to conflicts in destructive or avoidant ways.  Individual, family, and/or couples counseling can be used to help people master the art of conflict resolution.  The suggested steps are as follows:

1) Strike While The Metal is Cold.   We have all heard the phrase “Strike while the metal is hot”, which means don’t wait to act.  This may be true for metal work but the opposite is true in handling conflicts constructively.  Rather than reacting emotionally, good conflict resolution requires letting one’s primitive emotions, such as anger and fear, to settle so that the capacity for effective strategic choices can guide actions and speech.  Therefore it is better to delay responding and take time to calm down.  One example might be to ask to sleep on it or even to think about things.  Teaching our children to take a time out and go to their rooms when upset is another way this principle is followed.  Techniques such as meditation, journaling, calming affirmations, physical exercise, talking to a supportive friend and many others can be used.  The guiding principle is to cool down strong emotions.

2) Begin With Communicating Respect and Appreciation.  When it is time to talk about the difficulty rather than starting off on a hostile or aggressive note, begin by purposefully letting the other person know what you value about them and your relationship.  Then directly explain that this is why you want to work out a solution to whatever the conflict is.  This will set the stage for the discussion to proceed constructively rather than destructively.  It is important that what one communicates in this step be honest and not simply manipulation.  If it isn’t sincere this will likely increase defensiveness.

3) Outline The Facts Without Emotionally Laden Language.  After making clear reasons for sincerely wanting to resolve the conflict then clearly states the nature of the conflict without harsh terms, put downs, or blaming language.  A good way to begin is “I have noticed that ….” After making clear reasons for sincerely wanting to resolve the conflict then clearly states the nature of the conflict without harsh terms, put downs, or blaming language.  A good way to begin is “I have noticed that ….”

4) Clarify Both Sides Through Assertive Statements and Reflective Summary.  Having expressed positive motivation, non-emotionally outlined the facts of the conflict, now it is time to clarify the feelings and needs of both parties.  This can be done through clarifying feelings and needs in assertive statements.  A good assertive statement has three parts.  It goes like this: “I feel _____, when you _____.  What I need is ______”.   After expressing a clear assertive statement ask the other person what their side of is.  Once they finish try to say back to them a statement that includes those 3 parts and see if you understand them.  If not ask for more details until you can accurately capture their side like this: “Let me see if I have this straight: You feel ____, when I _____.  What you need is _____.  Is that right?”

5) Make Offers Not Demands.  Nobody likes to be told what to do so instead of trying to make the other person do what one wants, a more cooperative approach is to make a series of offers aimed at trying to meet the need clarified in step 4.  After each offer ask the other person if there is anything he/she could do to meet the need you expressed.  For each thing they offer try to offer another thing until you hopefully reach a good agreement.  A good agreement has 3 parts:. It should be fair, realistic, and specific.   If the agreement lacks any of these qualities try to revise so it has all 3.  Then the last step is…

6) Follow up.  A little time later, perhaps a week or so, approach the other person.  Begin by telling them you are glad the two of you were able to resolve the conflict.  Then tell them how you perceive things are going and ask how they think it is working.  If anything is identified as not meeting the needs of either party repeat the steps to come up with a revised and improved agreement.

Hopefully outlining this approach to mastering the art of conflict resolution will help people caught in non constructive patterns of communicating such that they can better find success and fulfillment in important areas of life.  If you would like further assistance in learning these skills please contact me at david@sacac.sg, or contact our office to schedule a consultation.

Written by:
Dr. David Shapiro
Psychologist

Ph.D. The University of Texas at Austin, M.A. Teachers College- Columbia University, B.A. The University of California at Santa Cruz

The Dark Side of being perfect

In an increasingly competitive world, there are constant demands to improve one’s performance.   In addition to meeting external demands, many people also experience the internal pressure to succeed or perform to a certain level or established standards.   This desire to meet high standards motivates one to achieve goals and perform effectively. However, the healthy pursuit of excellence crosses the line into an unhealthy striving for perfection when

  1. The standards (for yourself and/or others) are “high beyond reach or reason” (Burns, 1980)
  2. One’s self-worth is judged based largely on one’s accomplishment, productivity and ability to achieve such high standards
  3. One continues to strain or strive to meet these internal expectations despite experiencing negative consequences or a lack of satisfaction because one’s performance is not good enough

In clinical perfectionism, functioning at work, home, and in interpersonal relationships can be negatively impacted.  At an individual level, perfectionism have been shown to detrimentally affect one’s physical and psychological well-being.   It has a negative impact on the stress and coping process which in turn affects one’s health behaviours. Perfectionism have been associated with poorer physical health and an increased risk for poor adjustment and disease management of chronic illnesses (Molnar, Sadava, et al., 2012).

Perfectionism has been implicated in the aetiology and maintenance of eating disorders, anxiety disorders and depression with research demonstrating a clear association between perfectionism, psychopathology and negative treatment outcomes (Shafran & Mansell, 2001).  For example, perfectionism is a

  1. Risk factor for developing eating disorders
  2. “destructive” force in depression and strongly associated with suicidal thoughts and behaviours
  3. Robustly associated with anxiety disorders, especially obsessive-compulsive disorders.

The aim of treating clinical perfectionism is not to lower or remove striving for personal standards.  Instead, it is aimed at reducing self-evaluation being exclusively based on meeting personal standards, and the associated self-criticism when the standards are not met (Egan, Wade & Shafran, 2011).  It is only through striving to overcome a difficult situation or experience that helps us to experience success and a feeling of competence. By focusing on being perfect all the time, if humanly possible, we never learn or develop the capacity to trust ourselves.   

Given the dark side of perfectionism, I’m contented with the beauty of just being good enough.  After all, as Winnicott puts it, “good enough” is far better than being perfect or the “best”.

References

Burns, D.D. (1980). The perfectionists’ script for self-defeat. Psychology Today, November, 34–52.

Egan,S. I, Wade, T.D, & Shafran, R. (2011). Perfectionism as a transdiagnostic process: a clinical review. Clinical Psychology Review, 31, 203-212.

Molnar, D. S., Sadava, S. W., Flett, G. L., & Colautti, J. (2012). Perfectionism and health: A mediational analysis of the roles of stress, social support and health-related behaviours. Psychology and Health, 27, 846-864.

Shafran, R., & Mansell, W. (2001). Perfectionism and psychopathology: A review of research and treatment. Clinical Psychology Review, 21, 879−906.

Written by:
Velda Chen
Clinical Psychologist
MClinPsych, BA(Hons), Registered Psychologist (Singapore)


Letting Go Of The Past

What drives us to live in the past? How can we be stuck in the past to the point of forgetting the present and neglecting the future? And most importantly, how to get out of this spiral and finally move on with our lives? All of us, without exception, have experienced one or more sad and painful episodes in the past. Some of us have been able to move on while others struggle to really let go.

When it comes to letting go of the past and moving forward, we always refer to bad experiences, one must forget their ex, failures, sad youth, and so on. Yet a disabling past that prevents us from moving forward may very well be of a glorious or a legendary time that unfolded what was once our success, power, and beauty.

Hence a separation from our past, be it painful or glorious, is crucial because it only slows us down.

There are two kinds of past that it is challenging to get over:

The tragic past

It is all the negative experience that prevents us in one way or another from moving forward, to get better and live the present moment.

The nostalgic past

It is the strong, even sickly, attachment to a glorious era of our life to the point of rejecting the reality that is often different and sometimes much less advantageous. 

There is no harm in being nostalgic, one would say, as it does not matter to rethink tenderly of our youth or past success and provided that this nostalgia does not stop us from accepting our age, physical shape, health, current financial and / or social situation.

Also regretting the harm that had been caused to others because of our past actions is a human and benevolent reaction that will prevent us in the future from doing the same wrong again. On the other hand, hiding in the depths of the past so as not to face reality creates a feeling that only gives one the illusion of a temporary well-being.

The past is the past and the present is where you are now, but the future is what you make! If you have not done so yet, it is high time to make the decision to let it go of your past.

Start by making a conscious decision followed by the commitment of getting over the past; accept the pain inflicted to you in the past and learn from it; stop the victim attitude and take ownership of your actions. Forgive yourself for past mistakes, and stop dwelling into past glories, the future is yet to come!

Seek professional help if letting go of the past remains a challenging task.

Written by:
Sanaa Lundgren
MS (Counselling), MS (PolSci)