Communicating safely through conflict: Start with the heart

Communicating safely through conflict starts with the heart and what an individual really wants for the relationship.

This communicating safely through conflict article will focus on “Start with Heart.” This means that we should begin by asking ourselves what we really want, in our hearts, for the relationship in question. Ideally, we want to preserve, protect and even strengthen the relationship. Having this goal in the forefront of our minds as we attempt to resolve a conflict can help us keep focused on constructive solutions and navigate the sometimes bumpy road of our emotions. It is the “heart” time of year and being with family and loved ones can sometimes stir up conflict; therefore, it is important to be prepared to talk though things in constructive ways.

In the book “Crucial conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzler, the acronym “STATE” is introduced. STATE is a tool for establishing safety and beginning a difficult conversation in a non-threatening, but honest way. The first three letters describe what we need to say to start a conversation that’s safe, honest and effective. The second three letters describe how we need to talk.

  • S = Share your view and how the situation is affecting you. (“I believe ____ is happening and it affects me by ____.”)
  • T = Tell the outcome you really want. (“I would really like us to resolve this in a way that works for both of us.”) 
  • A = Ask for their views. (“How do you see the situation?”) 
  • T = Talk tentatively. (“I wonder if _____ is possible so that _____ occurs.”) 
  • E = Encourage testing. (“Do you see it differently? What am I missing?”)

Adults need to be concerned about conflict resolution to be able to demonstrate good character to today’s youth – our future leaders. This involves not belittling people we disagree with and being skillful at using STATE skills to work through conflict in effective, mature ways. We want our youth to be able to stay in dialogue with people they disagree with, protect the relationship and find collaborative solutions.

See other articles on conflict resolution from Michigan State University Extension; they cover topics such as understanding your conflict management style, your approach to conflict and knowing your conflict resolution role. The purpose of these articles is to provide conflict resolution support and build conflict resolution capacity. Start with the heart this holiday season.

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