Conflict is a normal part of relationships. Family conflicts often arise that cause a great deal of stress for everyone involved, affecting all members of the family. Conflict occurs when individuals have different points of view or needs that clash and cause disagreement. Many issues can lead to family conflict, reports the National Institutes of Health, such as illness, disability, addiction, job loss, school difficulties and marital problems. Mediation is the process in which someone outside the family helps the family members reach agreements and identify solutions that work for everyone. To mediate a family conflict, you should employ communication strategies and conflict-resolution skills.
Steps to Mediate a Family Conflict
Let go of needing to be right. Most family members believe they are right while the other person is wrong, which sets up an immediate barrier to finding a compromise or a solution. Insisting on getting your own way is a setup for unhappiness, says licensed psychologist Dr. Lynne Namka, because it puts into place a power struggle that can damage relationships. Step back from the situation and look at it objectively. Imagine that you are in the other person’s shoes and try to understand multiple perspectives, not only your own.
Take turns speaking without interruptions. Part of mediating a conflict involves the ability to listen non-judgmentally and respond calmly to the other person. It is difficult for this to occur when people talk --or yell -- over each other so no one feels heard. Encourage family members to make a rule that during the mediation of a conflict, only one person can speak at a time. Each person will have a chance to respond without interruption. Listeners should focus and not engage with their phones or give in to other distractions.
Use “I” and “We” statements. Hurtful insults or accusations can easily derail the resolution of a family conflict. Imagine the difference between someone saying, “You are lazy and don’t do anything around the house,” compared to, “I could use more help with household chores because I feel overwhelmed” or “I think we need to work on how household tasks are distributed.” The difference in these statements typically makes a big difference in how your words are received. According to the Conflict Research Consortium at the University of Colorado, using "I" statements is a way of communicating a problem without accusing another person of being the cause. By using “I” or “we” statements, the other person is less likely to respond in a defensive manner.
Keep an open mind. For family mediation to be effective, all the parties involved must keep an open mind and try to give others the benefit of the doubt. Before taking something personally or responding immediately, take a minute to process your feelings about the situation. The non-profit organization HelpGuide.org points out that while differences may seem trivial, an underlying human need is often at the heart of the conflict, such as a need to feel safe and secure, a need to feel respected and valued, or a need for greater closeness and intimacy. Take a minute to breathe and process the situation to make it easier to communicate your needs clearly and calmly.
View conflict mediation as an opportunity for growth. Conflicts generally produce strong emotions, and mediating a conflict is an opportunity to develop coping strategies in times of stress and discord. Conflicts can also provide an opportunity to model positive conflict resolution skills for children or other family members. In a 2007 study published in “Child Development,” writers Julie Smith and Hildy Ross say that children whose parents were trained in mediation were more likely to understand their siblings’ perspectives and were able to positively negotiate independently in future conflicts. When a conflict is resolved successfully, it often makes relationships stronger, and disagreements may not escalate as far in the future.
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Perceptual Barriers to Communication
- National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus: Family Issues
- HelpGuide.org: Conflict Resolution Skills
- Child Development: Training Parents to Mediate Sibling Disputes Affects Children's Negotiation and Conflict Understanding
- University of Colorado: Conflict Research Consortium: "I" Statements not "You" Statements
- Get Your Angries Out: Dr. Lynne Namka: The "I Need To Be Right" Way of Thinking
- If a conflict reaches a deadlock and does not improve, you may want to speak to a professional such as a family counselor or mediator in order to move forward with the help of a neutral third party.
Lauren Mills, L.C.S.W. is a licensed psychotherapist and mental health writer with a private practice based in New York City. She has extensive experience providing psychotherapy to children, adolescents, adults and families. She holds a Masters of Science in clinical social work from Columbia University.
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