Leaning Into Conflict

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By Annie Gelfand MBA, CPCC, MCC

People everywhere around the world argue. Some do it well, so that each party walks away feeling seen, heard and respected. They may agree to disagree. Their interaction is emotionally intelligent, free of blame, stonewalling and contempt. Other interactions, however, may not go quite as well. We are seeing evidence of these latter interactions more and more throughout the world. As polarities are becoming more obvious, tensions are heightened, we also see that every relationship is only as strong as each individual within it is self-aware.

Unresolved emotional issues left to fester for years, lying unsuspectingly dormant, can get triggered. Before you know it, one of you (or more) has turned into a five year old child having a temper tantrum and not really understanding why.

It is each of our responsibilities to leave no old emotional wound unaddressed. Along the way, however, the challenge is to keep our interactions from escalating to levels of conflict beyond repair. The target is to navigate these difficult conversations where participants can stay free from creating damage and hopefully ultimately generate even greater intimacy and willingness to be vulnerable. The magic key is something John Gottman, author of ‘The Relationship Cure” calls repair bids; a “happy couple’s secret weapon.” The following outlines Gottman’s protocols to catch the conflict before it begins to escalate beyond repair.

7 ways to make a repair bid in the moment to keep from escalation (low level):

1. Use humour to create some levity
2. Ask your partner what they need from you right now
3. Validate their emotions
4. Apologize in the moment
5. Touch them gently
6. Verbally remind both of you that you’re on the same team
7. Empathize with them, “I get you.”

7 ways to make a repair attempt when real emotional damage has been done (high level):

1. Take responsiblity for your behavior
2. Verbally apologize with sincerity
3. Give your partner a hand-written, personalized card
4. Tell them you love them and didn’t mean to hurt them
5. Ask them what they need from you to heal the wound
6. Share your ideas around how you got triggered and how you plan to work on avoiding it happening again
7. Tell your partner why they are worth it and what they mean to you

Although Gottman is referring to romantic couples, these principals can also be applied to any professional relationship. If at least one participant in the relationship is willing to be vigilant, if both parties care about and are invested in the relationship, willing to work on it, and take on the responsibility of offering the “repair bid”, conflict situations may be nipped in the bud.

No matter how badly things go, repair bids go a long way towards healing any chasm.

@2018 Annie Gelfand/Radical Wisdom all rights reserved



Annie Gelfand, MBA, CPCC, MCC, Radical


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