Melvin Feller MA believes that conflict in any type of relationship including business and personal can be a deal breaker and a heart breaker but it is also the cornerstone of growth and trust. Melvin Feller, a survivor of a former abusive marriage, and now happily married to a very wonderful caring and loving wife. However, he knows the pain of abuse and about a wife who cheats with a close one-time friend. Melvin Feller as a professor, CEO, father, stepfather and grandfather knows what issues can surface quickly and can cause lasting harm. That is why Melvin Feller MA knows why is conflict resolution so important!!
Because as Melvin Feller knows that conflict helps us heal, strengthen and shape long lasting, joyous and fulfilling intimate relationships. That was the premise behind this presentation.
Often times business and personal divergences are essential ingredients in any close relationship. Two people can’t possibly always have the same needs, thoughts and expectations. A relationship lacking of challenge loses its mystery and becomes routine and predictable. Thus, thought-provoking experiences add to our wealth of knowledge, stimulating lifelong change and growth. According to many social researchers, nothing arouses a toddler’s developing brain more than disruption and reunification in primary relationships. This same principle holds true for adult relationships. Let’s examine how this affects us early on as we are growing up.
Stimulating experiences provide us with lifetime opportunities for:
· brain development — new learning doesn’t take place without challenge and this is true for adults as well as children
· changing the manner, we perceive, think and behave — both parties change and evolve when differences are reconciled
· stimulating mental, physical and emotional health — resolving conflict positively impacts a wide range of stress related problems.
· deepening abiding trust in intimate relationships — how well we respond to differences characterizes a fulfilling, secure and lasting love relationship.
How can understanding the attachment bond in childhood help improve our conflict skills in adult love relationships?
Well, as Melvin Feller MA has studied this; from the perspective of our first love connection, disagreement builds trust; provided the infant’s needs are met and differences are quickly resolved. If the relationship is insecure and lacks trust, conflict triggers expectations of abandonment, rejection, punishment and humiliation. Fear and avoidance of conflict may result in ignoring needs for self-expression or self-respect. When this happens, the joy, life and health-sustaining aspects of an intimate love relationship will wither and die. But because the brain remains flexible and amenable to change in love relationships, differences remain opportunities for healing and creating more secure love relationships.
When differences cause us to set aside our needs or emotions, we lose touch with ourselves. When conflicts end in experience that frightens hurts and punishes others, we lose the trust of those we care about.
People in love relationships will always have disagreements but whether these differences are divisive or opportunities for greater trust and intimacy will depend on:
· our ability to view differences as opportunities for positive change — If conflict is viewed with fear, if we pretend that it doesn’t exist or ignore it, that which separates us will be disruptive rather than an opportunity for positive change in our love relationships.
· our capacity to remain relaxed and focused in tense and intense situations — If we don’t know how to stay centered, relaxed and in control of ourselves we may become overwhelmed emotionally in challenging situations
· our ability to experience primary emotions and recognize what matters most to us — If we numb or ignore basic feelings like anger, sadness or fear, our ability to face and resolve differences will be compromised. If we fear emotional intensity — ours or theirs — or insist on exclusively rational outcomes, we will lack tools we need to resolve conflicts
· our tolerance for differences — If we can’t bear to see others make choices that deviate from our own, conflict will lead to judgment, blame and punishment. Relationships that can’t accommodate dissent or diversity have little resiliency and no opportunity for growth.
These factors are greatly influenced by the way conflict was handled in our first love relationship. What mattered then was not what we argued about but how we argued. It is important to note that what experiences in early intimate relationships set the stage for reactions to conflict as an adult?
Bottom line is that this is the point at which secure or insecure outcomes begin shaping adult responses to conflict. If the caretaker immediately resolves the situation without a battle of wills or resorting to punishment, the relationship will be strengthened. If the disagreement results in humiliation, rejection, pain or feelings of abandonment, future conflicts will be met with dread, rage and fear.
However, as we grow older and more socially involved in business, group or personal relationships we learn how become more secure in our responses to conflict and how we are characterized by it. Here is what we learn:
· capacity to recognize and respond to important matters
· readiness to forgive and forget
· ability to seek compromise and avoid punishment
· belief that resolution can support the interests and needs of both parties
Insecure responses to conflict are characterized by:
· inability to recognize and respond to matters of great importance to the other
· explosive, angry, hurtful, resentful reactions
· withdrawal of love, rejection, isolation, shaming and fear of abandonment
· expectation of bad outcomes
· fear and avoidance of conflict
This leads me to ask how do misunderstood needs create irreconcilable differences in our relationships?
Wants or desires are the icing on the cake — they are the things we would like to have, but can manage to live without, if we don’t get them. Needs are non-negotiable; they consist of things we simply cannot do without if we are to live well. This is why clashes of need can break a relationship.
For example, differences of need are behind most conflicts between children and their caregivers. For example, one person’s requirement for safety and security may be at odds with the other’s requirement for exploration and growth. Adults who feel ashamed or uncomfortable expressing needs will be at a disadvantage in disagreements with those who are aware of what is important to them. Some people side-step the issue of needs and emotions by using moralizing pomposity when asking for what they want. This approach, like that of ignoring or denying needs, serves to confuse and confound the resolution of conflict.
Several social researchers and psychologists tell us that brain research and technology continues to validate adult needs for exploration, self-expression and growth. We also know that we have life-long requirements for relationships that provides recognition, understanding, nurture and support. These non-negotiable needs support well-being and survival.
All basic relationships are compromised when:
· early life experience teaches us it is useless or unsafe to communicate needs
· needs are ignored
· expressing needs evokes punishment or abuse
Business and personal relationships create expectations of how others will respond to our needs. People who grow up believing their needs will be met are resilient and able to remain focused, relaxed and creative in challenging situations. People who grow up without such expectations will be mistrustful of themselves and of conflict in general.
Now we must define how wants differ from needs?
Needs are linked to survival. They are parts of life that we cannot do without because they foster health and wellbeing. Wants play a lesser role in survival, but not necessarily a lesser role in our lives. In consumer cultures we are manipulated into wanting all manner of things we don’t need.
In recognizing the difference between wants and needs consider the following:
· are about things that continue to matter
· support survival and wellbeing
· continue to fester if ignored
· are felt experiences in our bodies
· have an emotional charge
· come and go
· are triggered by thoughts
· are vulnerable to manipulation
· can be postponed without injury to ourselves
· can often be resolved effectively through play
Therefore, from a perspective that recognizes the role of needs and the influence of relationships in resolving conflict, reason alone is not always enough. The standard for resolving conflict remains the rational set of interventions described by conflict resolution. These practices include logical ways to listen, communicate and solve problems. From the perspective of attachment, such interventions may not, by themselves, be enough to resolve differences in our relationships.
How can the lessons of attachment improve the practice of conflict resolution?
The most commonly used tools for resolving conflict are: “I” messages, active listening, and problem solving. These methods have been around for decades and count on our ability to approach differences rationally. But as we have seen, our relationships shape the expectations and behavioral responses we bring to conflict. Successful communication recognizes the influence of past experience and brings this awareness to the table.
Here are the parts of conflict resolution that have been identified along with suggestions for making them more effective:
“I” messages are communications intended to make disclosures about yourself — I think, I feel, etc. The point is to disclose information about yourself — not the other person. Most communication in conflict situations focus on what the other person does or has done that is bad or wrong! “I feel that you…” is not an I message; it’s a “you message” in disguise.
In any event, I messages accompanied, or followed by verbal or nonverbal punishment such as rolling eyes, deep sighs of frustration or disgust, glowering or withdrawing emotionally will undermine I messages.
Active listening refers to the capacity to pick up nonverbal information in the process of listening to another person. The idea is to listen with more than ears –to listen with a heart wide open. An important part of this process consists of relaying back to the sender your recognition of the emotion as well as the content being communicated.
Again, if any sort of punishment, criticism, blame or humiliation attaches to this process, it will limit the ability to resolve issues or build trust.
Problem solving is the negotiation process that follows I messages and active listening. As commonly understood, this is rational problem-solving process — but its effectiveness depends on laying out irrational as well as rational concerns. These are reflections of our childhood needs, and must be respected even if they seem out of context. Past experience may not seem rational, but it plays a key role in negotiating solutions with high probabilities of success.
Once again, if punishing elements slip into the negotiation process, they will limit the opportunity for creating lasting and constructive change.
We are not stuck with attitudes and patterns of behavior that bind us irrevocably to past experiences. But in order to change the way we relate to conflict, we have to include an understanding of how past expectations and old knee-jerk responses continue to affect us. For example, if conflict makes us feel unsafe, we have to bring this awareness to the table in the communication and negotiation processes. Our needs, feelings and past experiences are part of a mix of rational and irrational elements that can produce lasting change.