Wingspan: The Pillar of Relationships and Conflict

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The Pillar of Relationship is one of the Civil Air Patrol’s Five Pillars of Wellness and Resilience

Sharing tips on relationships and conflict

by Chaplain (Lt. Col.) Stu Boyd
Utah Wing, Civil Air Patrol

This is the third of five articles dealing with wellness and resilience.  Recalling the five pillars: Mind; Body; Relationship; Spirit; and Family – this article will focus on Relationship.  Civil Air Patrol and the USAF have talked about the importance of establishing a Wingman relationship with someone.  During my first tour flying combat in Southeast Asia I learned to trust my life to a guy in the backseat of my Phantom – he was called a GIB (Guy in Back). This was one type of relationship.  Most relationships go well beyond “flying someone’s wing” and making sure they don’t get in trouble.  Most relationships are much deeper.

We live with relationships every day–classmates, family, spouse, our workplace partners—relationship is one of the key elements of our life. Safe it to say, few close relationships do not encounter conflict.  The strength of the relationship, and sometimes even its survival, depends on how well we manage that conflict.  This month’s article will focus on an approach on:  HOW TO MANAGE CONFLICT.

Two people almost never have the same understanding of reality.  What this means is I will see a situation or problem one way – and you will see it another.  Conflict develops when I attempt to convince you that your understanding of the issue is not correct – and mine is.  For example, let’s look at curfew.  As a parent I might think that you should be home on weeknights at 9:00 (after homework is done).  You might think that that is unreasonable and that “all” of your other friends can stay out until 10:00.  “Houston, we have a conflict.”

 The first step in the process is to prepare to listen to each other.  I need to add that if anger has developed, cool off.  Put off the discussion to a time when emotions have cooled.

  • Good listening means finding a place where you can focus on hearing what the other person has to say. If should be free of distractions; put down the iPhone, turn off the TV, close the book or magazine.
  • Body language is your most powerful communication tool. Over half of our communication is sent by body language.  Eye contact is especially important so find a place where you can look at each other easily. Don’t check your watch.  Don’t “close” your body by folding your arms.
  • Try to be on the same level – both seated or standing

Choose who will speak first.  The first speaker should explain their “reality.”  In the case of our example, the parent should outline why they believe the 9:00 curfew is a good idea. They might talk about safety or time to get enough sleep.  The listener should repeat back what they are hearing.  The speaker should not try to say everything at once.  Instead, limit to one idea at a time so the listener can absorb what you are saying and then share it back.

The reason for this is that when dealing with a conflict, our tendency is to focus on where you are wrong and mentally begin preparing “my rebuttal or defense.”  If you allow yourself to do this, you cannot hear what the other person is saying.  If the listener is expected to repeat what was said, they must focus on the speaker and not on how they, as the listener, will respond.

After the first speaker has finished, the roles reverse.  Be careful not to use this time to try to invalidate the first speakers’ ideas.  Your role is to explain “your reality.”  The second speaker might talk about how weekday events are most often for a group study or to enjoy a sporting event.  The same rules apply.  The ideas offered should be repeated by the new listener.

If at any point in this process it develops into an argument.  Stop and agree to get together in a hour or so after this cool off.

After both have spoken, then the discussion should focus on where they agree.  For example, both might agree that a good night’s sleep is needed, and that safety is very important.  The idea is to see where you agree, not to focus on where you disagree.  By doing this you also develop a better understanding of the other person’s reality.

This, in turn, lays the foundation for developing a mutual solution.  I specifically did not use the word compromise.  A compromise, in my definition, means that I win half the time and I lose the other half.  A mutual solution is something where we both are at least satisfied, if not happy with the new plan.

Let’s return to the curfew issue.  I, as the parent, might be focusing my safety concerns on not knowing where my child is while out in the evening.  There is a location tracker function that can be used on a cell phone that would provide this information. If my child will agree to install the app, then I will be less concerned.  Regarding sleep, there could be an agreement on heading immediately to bed on coming in. There might be a limit on the number of “late night” events.  These are the type of solutions to be explored.

I have outlined a model for dealing with conflict.  My wife and I have used it for twenty years and taught it to hundreds of other couples.  Using this model to resolve conflict not only develops better solutions but it strengthens the relationship.  Give it a try.  It works!

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