Conflict Resolution Strategies (In Light of the Oscars)
This year’s Oscars will likely go down in history as one of the more unforgettable events in the ceremony’s 93-year run — but probably not for the reasons the Academy wanted. What happened has been covered by every major news outlet under the sun, but it seems that nobody is discussing the root issue beneath the event itself: conflict resolution strategies.
Today we’re going to look at how to diffuse conflict when it’s being directed at someone we care about — a loved one, friend or family member. Many of us are at our most protective when someone is directly attacking those we love. It can take all of our being not to berate or attack the people who harm those we care for.
But what are we actually saying about our loved ones when we step in on their behalf? And could our actions be more harmful to them than beneficial?
Here are five ways to start approaching conflict resolution from a different angle.
1. Stop being an empath
When we’re protecting those we love, it’s usually because we have empathy for them. We see a look of pain on their face after they’ve just been insulted, and we want to “jump in the ring” and take over.
Unfortunately, our sense of empathy in moments like these actually clouds our judgment instead of improving it. Empathy means to feel what others are feeling, and that’s no good if they’re feeling something bad or destructive.
Think about it — when someone is miserable and you feel empathy for them, you feel their same sadness. When someone is angry and you feel their feelings, you’re just as pissed off as they are. Those emotions render us unable to respond to conflict in a thoughtful, constructive way.
2. Start having sympathy
Instead of having empathy for others, practice having sympathy for those you care about. Being sympathetic means you understand what someone is going through without feeling all of their emotions firsthand. This way, you can still express your care and love for the person you want to be there for without becoming the center of the conflict yourself.
The next time someone is being insulted or talked down to, practice being sympathetic instead of empathetic by approaching the situation in a calm, collected yet firm manner. That way, you can still help your loved ones without acting out in rash ways that make their situation worse.
3. Respect their autonomy
This is a game changer when it comes to rethinking the way you hold space for those you love. Here’s the thing about conflict resolution on others’ behalf: it’s a tacit way of expressing that you don’t trust your loved one to handle conflict themselves.
When you start “taking over” for your spouse, friend or family member, you’re inadvertently expressing that you find them weak, vulnerable or unable to deal with the situation at hand. Without consciously recognizing it, you’re communicating the fact that you don’t trust others to deal with tension. The next time your loved one is in a position of conflict, ask yourself: “Do they actually need my protection at this moment?” and “Does the situation really warrant me stepping in?”
The point is, when you take control of someone else’s conflict, you deny them the opportunity to navigate the situation themselves. That can be destructive to both your loved one’s self esteem, and also to the overall health of your relationship. Let others fight their own battles — your job is to provide them with armor (reassurance) and rational (support).
4. View them as strong and capable
We all view others in a certain light. In addition to holding respect for others during moments of conflict, it also pays to view them as strong, capable individuals. Doing so will help them feel even more confident about themselves and their own approach to tension.
The next time a loved one comes to you telling you about a conflict they’re experiencing, try telling them that you know they’ll persevere and make it through the situation, because they’re smart, independent and resourceful. At the same time, tell them that you’ll be there to support them every single step of the way.
5. Bring light to important issues
If someone is bullying someone you love — whether it’s making fun of their appearance, their financial situation, their religion or anything else — there’s an opportunity to turn an otherwise harmful comment into a teaching moment.
Instead of berating the person attacking your loved one, try something new. Acknowledge their behavior as sophomoric, and then thank them for bringing an important issue to light. Use the moment at hand to discuss why harassing others isn’t okay, or why putting others down because of their situation is regressive and problematic.
The conflict-starter may not see things from your point of view, but that doesn’t matter. You’ll feel better about taking the high road, and you’ll also be supporting those you care about without rushing in to attack their assailant.
Conflict resolution is a critical life skill
Conflict resolution is a necessary skill, and also one that nobody directly teaches us. Most of us are expected to pick up conflict resolution skills through observing others and learning the “correct” way to navigate the world. Unfortunately, we’re not all great teachers — or role models — when it comes to diffusing tension, and so many of us are walking through the world while carrying some unhealthy beliefs about how to solve thorny arguments.
While the 2022 Oscars displayed a questionable approach to conflict, the ceremony has also served as an important moment for all of us to reflect upon our own approach to solving arguments.
Now, the choice is yours. What are you going to take away from this moment?