One of the saddest results of ongoing conflict is the destructive impact it can have on relationships. What could otherwise be a productive or even loving relationship has taken damage that often seems irreparable. This damage is especially sad when it affects other innocent parties, like family members, co-workers, or large groups of people. While hope for rebuilding might seem bleak, history has proven that when both parties in a conflict are willing to put the time and energy into a transformative conflict resolution process, reinvigorated and sometimes even stronger relationships are possible. And although such a process is never very easy or comfortable, there are some essential tried-and-true elements that must be in place for a successful conflict resolution process to occur.
Below are what I call the 6 C’s of Relationship Rebuilding. If these factors are not in place during the process of conflict management, the results are highly unlikely to be favorable or long-lasting.
Care is the first and perhaps most important element of resolving conflict and rebuilding a relationship. Not only is an authentic feeling of care needed to motivate individuals to participate in the process of conflict resolution or relationship rebuilding, but the spirit of care – the knowledge that the other party cares about you as well – is extremely important for breaking down walls and moving forward.
Consider the difference between having a conversation with someone who you know cares about you versus having a conversation with someone who you feel doesn’t really care about you but rather has some other motivating factor driving their agenda. The sense that another party does not care about you immediately puts up defensive walls and makes the resolution and rebuilding process extremely difficult if not impossible. Also consider the fact that when you do not care about the other but rather have an external agenda to get the conflict resolved, this makes the entire process for you more tedious and less rewarding. Hence, if you do not get in touch with a deep sense of care for the other party, there’s almost no chance you will be motivated enough to stick through the amount of effort that will be required to resolve a long-standing conflict and ultimately to transform a relationship.
This is not easy work, and rebuilding relationships takes time and some discomfort, so a deep and lasting motivation is necessary. There are almost no motivating factors as powerful as a feeling of deep care. Further, when you care, the other party feels cared about, which typically inspires them to care as well; and when you feel cared about, I would venture to suggest that it is easier for you to care back. A caring atmosphere between parties is absolutely critical as a foundation for transformation.
It is extremely important for all parties involved in a transformative conflict resolution process to both commit to and acknowledge the others’ commitment to the process of transformation. In other words, both parties must feel driven to stay with the process as long as it takes, and both must understand that the other party is at the same level of commitment. If one party is all-in but the other party is only half-in, for instance, it makes the process much more difficult and virtually impossible to see through. Again, no transformative process is easy and typically takes quite some effort and time, so both parties must enter the process with the willing commitment to endure the changes and sometimes uncomfortable feelings necessary to ultimately rebuild the relationship. The explicit recognition that all parties are committed to the process of rebuilding is key.
Learning effective communication skills is, of course, extremely important in any relationship but especially during a conflict resolution process. Clear, calm, solution-focused communication makes the entire process more efficient and less emotionally charged.
That being said, perhaps even more important than a particular communication style is the creation of a safe and open space for dialogue, where individuals can express their needs and feelings without the fear of repercussion. In other words, all parties must be able to express themselves in a safe environment and not fear that the other party will later use what they say against them. Each party should be given ample time, without interruption, to express their grievances, needs, and feelings in a respectful but honest way. This is why having a dialogue facilitator, counselor, or relationship mediator present during the conflict resolution process can be crucial. Often, a neutral third-party expert can help keep the peace, keep all parties on track, and assure the space for dialogue is safe and respectful. If a third-party is not applicable, then it will be your job to stay as neutral as possible to facilitate clear communication and a designated safe space for dialogue.
A spirit and practice of collaboration are vital for a conflict resolution process because it diminishes the adverse effects of power dynamics. Especially in work settings, but also sometimes in relationships, one party has or is perceived to have greater power than the other. An imbalance of power, which is typically perceived as the negation of at least one party’s autonomy, makes for a decreased ability to resolve conflicts or to rebuild relationships. Hence, it is important to equalize all parties, at least during the resolution process, so that each feels they have equal say and authority in making decisions for themselves. In doing so, true collaboration rather than dictation is possible.
When parties work together to come up with solutions that work for everyone, those solutions can be both satisfying and long-lasting. Go into the process of conflict management with a focus on Win-Win: how can we get all parties’ needs met most efficiently and practically? This takes input from all sides, and all sides must be open to considering the perspectives of others. This openness is the core aspect of a collaborative process.
This can be potentially the toughest element to tackle, especially at the beginning of resolving a long-standing conflict. Because being a contributor forces you to move outside your ego, outside thinking about yourself or how you were wronged or what you can get; instead, it gets you to think about how you can give. This doesn’t mean financially. This doesn’t necessarily mean giving anything tangible. You could be contributing to the relationship or the conflict resolution process with gestures, words, or acts you perform purely for the sake of giving, purely for the sake of the relationship.
So ask yourself: What can you contribute to this relationship? What can you contribute to this rebuilding process? Instead of making it all about YOU and what YOU need and want, think about being of service. What can YOU give? And not in a tit-for-tat manner, not giving in order to get something in return. How can you be a giver, not just a taker? Be a contributor.
I know this is extremely difficult at the beginning of a relationship transformation process, especially if you feel the other is not contributing or reciprocating. But remember, being a contributor is not about reciprocation; this is about being of service not just for the other person but for yourself, to change the way you are. Resolving conflicts and rebuilding relationships is a process of internal growth, so this is a chance for you to grow as a person. Adopting a spirit of contributing, of being in service, will not just help potentially rebuild this relationship but create more, fruitful relationships everywhere in your life.
Finally, we’ll have to get creative in order to rebuild. The old ways and dynamics of the relationship obviously aren’t working. So, it’s time to try something new. It’s time to get creative: think outside the box, brainstorm, come up with new ideas and solutions for how your relationship can work, new activities to engage in, new rules and regulations where applicable, new ways of being and treating each other. Be innovative. You may even try things that seem strange.
A great way to employ creativity in the conflict resolution process is to engage in structured brainstorming. This involves allowing time for all ideas and solutions to be put on the table, no matter how seemingly impractical or outlandish. Without reserve, let all parties throw in their wild, crazy, creative ideas for possible fixes to the current problems and challenges. Then, when the idea phase is finished, the parties can collaboratively go through each idea and mark them off as practical or as impractical. Often during this “editing” phase, parties find the beginnings of solutions that just take a bit of tweaking and reworking to settle on something that could work. Who knows, you may just come up with a solution that no one had thought of before – one that actually helps resolve the conflict and transform your relationship.
6 C’s of Relationship Rebuilding: A Conflict Resolution Process
You may be at the beginning of what seems like a long, arduous road to rebuilding an important relationship. Or perhaps you’re at a midpoint, where you feel you have tried everything but have nonetheless reached a seemingly unmanageable impasse. Wherever you are in the process of transformation, make sure the above 6 aspects are in place. If even one of the 6 C’s is missing, you could be lacking a critical piece that would shift the process in a new, more fruitful direction. If you feel you need help from a third-party conflict resolution expert or mediator, always feel free to reach out to Pollack Peacebuilding Systems. We’d love to help transform your relationships for the better.