Updated: Mar 23
I grew up in a house that was like fire. Lots of voices, lots of energy, lots of anger, lots of joy, and lots of blood, sweat, and tears. Everything rose and fell like flames too. Reaching new heights only to disintegrate into ashes over and over again. The way arguments were won depended on who could be the loudest and the scariest. My solution as a kid was to keep my head down and bury my head in books and drawings.
Looking back, nobody really won and the problems never got solved. By the time I was 6 years old I knew these arguments were a waste of energy, and all I had to do was wait them out until the next storm brewed. With time, knowledge, and experience, I observed and experimented with other ways to solve conflict. Sometimes the solution wasn't exactly as I planned, but at least I could walk away knowing I gave my best. It felt good to navigate difficult conversations with peace in my heart rather than fear.
Working in schools in various roles, conflict resolution is 80% of the job. I had to work through schoolyard arguments, difference in perspectives with families, or problem solving logistics with colleagues. The initial fear is always there, but in time it gives way to hope when values are aligned. To me a conflict is just differing opinions and the key is to find a common goal, even if it's a small shade of the whole picture. It is possible to find the commonality between apples and oranges - it's called fruit juice. Combining two opposing things is not impossible when you get creative and establish trust and respect.
My process is as follows:
What are the needs/desires? Each side communicates their needs. Sometimes space is the first need, before working through a problem.
What is the problem? The problem is defined
What are some solutions? Brainstorm solutions
What can we agree on? Both parties agree on a solution (compromise may be needed)
Are we going to stick to the agreement? Clarify what the expectations and consequences are moving forward
Are we good? Support the relationship with healing words
For example, I remember when a student haphazardly threw a book high into the air and in his high energy play, failed to catch the book and accidentally stepped on the book. I walked over calmly and with gentleness in my heart let the child know that the book had to be returned to me because it was not being cared for. He threw a tantrum and hid in a corner, refusing to give back the book. I gave him space to find the calm within and approached him again.
Here's what the process looked like in action:
What are the needs/desires? When I approached him I asked him what he needed. With support he was able to articulate that he really wanted the book and I expressed that I needed the book to be cared for.
What is the problem? I stated the problem. "Looks like my book wasn't being treated well and you wish you could have the book."
What are some solutions? We brainstormed some solutions. He agreed to role play how to care for the book, which meant me modeling and him holding the book in his arms like it was an infant that needed gentle care. By him caring for the book, we would both get what we wanted.
What can we agree on? Agree on a solution. If he takes care of the book, which is what I want, he can have his book, which meets his wants. He agreed to care for the book in the future and also agreed to losing all future book privileges if the book did not come back in the same condition.
Are we going to stick to the agreement? I restated the statement above and he nodded his head in agreement. I agreed to give him an opportunity to prove he could be responsible with the book.
Are we good? I smiled, shared that I was glad we could reach an agreement, and that I can't wait for him to tell me all about the book.
This process has helped me in personal conflict resolutions with my husband, among family, and even strangers. As with anything that has to do with people, the process isn't always smooth, but at least it gives a structure through the conflict rather than battling blindly through, relying on your fight or flight instincts to take over. Everyone deserves to be heard and respected, even if they see things differently.
When done right, conflicts often lead to positive change. I'm sure many of us can recall disagreements that lead to new ways of thinking, personal growth, or sealed a decision. Fire is man's greatest invention, it provides warmth and nourishes our bodies by cooking the foods we eat. Wildfires give seeds the space to grow. Heat is used to cauterize wounds. Fire doesn't always have to burn, when done with love and care, it can heal too.