We all live in communities of people. Your community may be your group of friends, or it may be your family, or it may be around some social gathering like a church, sport event, or a social establishment. And something that comes up for all of us that live in communities is conflict.
So how do you deal with your community’s conflict? What do you do when you’re friends start fighting? What do you do when one family member won’t speak with another? What do you do when your gym buddy wants to exercise with a new gym buddy?
There are two rules of thumb that I use to address this:
Number one: Listen. We often think we know what the other person wants or is thinking. But even if we do, there is value in letting the other person share their story. The other night one of my housemates and I were starting to get into an argument. He was expressing his view, and I knew where he was going, so I would cut him off for “efficiency” and explain how I saw the world. I didn’t think I needed to let him express his full thought because I already knew where he was going, and I already had an answer. Save us five minutes.
But it didn’t work very well. The more I cut in, the more he dug his heels into his position. Finally, it dawned on me to stop and listen. I said “okay, let’s just say you’re right. What follows from that?” He then explained where he was going, and low and behold I was “right”. I had guessed it. But then something surprising happened. After I listened to him he changed. After he’d felt fully expressed and heard he moved. He suddenly saw the value in what I was saying, and he was even surprised at how he was changing in that moment.
Now I’m not saying that every time we fully listen to someone that they’re going to start agreeing with us. But I am saying that there was intrinsic value in the listening for my housemate, there was intrinsic value in feeling expressed and heard. And that experience drew him into deeper connection with me.
Number two: listen for the underlying values. Often we feel overwhelmed by conflicts in our communities because the opposing sides seem to want drastically different things. In a group of friends one may want to watch a comedy while another wants to watch a drama. In families one person thinks this is the way to live, and the other person thinks the exact opposite. And we feel overwhelmed by this conflict in part because we get stuck at this level of wants instead of listening for the underlying needs.
A quick example of this: I have two friends who were fighting. They both ended up at the same party. One demanded “he has to leave!” The other replied “I have every right to be here.” Now of course it seems like they want completely opposite things, and that one has to “win” and the other “lose”. But once I got them apart from one another, I could listen for the underlying value in what each wanted. One friend wanted space, peace, and fun. The other friend wanted respect, autonomy, and also fun. And with that it became clear. As long as they didn’t interact at the party, the one friend would have the space and peace she wanted, and the other friend could stay at the party and thus feel respected and autonomous. And guess what, they both had fun.
Once we live in communities where everyone feels safe to express themselves, and people are secure enough in themselves to listen, we’ll see that conflicts are natural and healthy for our mutual growth.
KindCommunication.org is a project by a close friend of Wiki World Order, Alex Leach. WWO fully supports the study, practice, and teaching of non-violent communication as one of the core solutions which already exists.