Making the Shift from Conflict to Nonflict in the Family Unit
by Stephen Hecht
Stephen Hecht, President and Chief Executive Peacemaker of Million Peacemakers, is the winner of numerous national, international, business and community awards and is a leader in YPO. With over 30 years in private and public businesses, divorce, re-marriage, kids and step-kids, Hecht has experienced many conflicts and shares some of the lessons learned from his own journey and some from the triumphs of the many he has helped. He is the co-author of Nonflict: The Art of Everyday Peacemaking and has an MBA from the Ivey Business School at Western University. For more information, visit www.nonflict.org <http://www.millionpeacemakers.org/.
As a father of four kids and three step-kids, I’ve experienced many of the feelings and conflicts new and more experienced conflicts parents go through. Once we become parents many complicated emotions are thrust upon us that we have a hard time understanding.
We have a new title and role- Father or Mother- and all of the implications that title brings to us, influenced by our own history with our own parents. We’ve become responsible for a new life which is a humbling and maturing experience. We are partners in deciding how to care for this new life which means that collaborating with our spouse/partner is critical. Plus, we have input from family and friends on the best way of doing this or that, causing more confusion and potential friction as most of us don’t like to be told what we should do. Some fathers also experience anger in feeling they’ve gone from first to second in importance as mom’s maternal instinct kicks in… and then feeling guilty for those feelings.
As parents, we have an obligation to be role models to our kids. They see the way we deal with conflict with our spouses and them and imitate us, so we need to show them how to do it right, even if that means improving ourselves. The good news is seeing conflict as an opportunity builds healthier, stronger relationships. A conflict is just two perspectives coming into contact. The resolution of a conflict involves coming to understand the other person and showing respect for them and their position.
The four most common ways we deal with conflict are:
Force: Do it “or else,” which can include varying degrees of punishment or unhappy outcomes if we don’t get what we want. This may work in the short term for the person with the most power but the person at the weaker end may resent it and look to get around the forced solution. (There’s no real reward for “winning” a fight with my wife)
Flee: Avoid it until it hopefully goes away. Although it may seem to go away for a short time, it rarely stays away and in the interim the stress builds.
Fifty-fifty: Or compromise. You take half and I’ll take the other half. It often feels fair in the moment, but since neither gets exactly what they want, neither is really happy with this. It feels better than losing, not as good as winning, firmly in a kind of “no man’s land.”
Fold: Letting the other person get what they want. This builds resentment over time as the other person thinks they can take advantage of you.
Over the past four years, my co-author, Dr. Amir Kfir, and I have held many Nonflict workshops around the world. One of our standard exercises includes a small group sharing how conflict was dealt with by our parents growing up and how it may be influencing the style we use today in resolving conflict.
I’ll never forget the story of a 6’8” dad who shared with everyone that, as a kid, his similarly towering father used force, or in his words a “walloping,” as his way to resolve conflict. Tears rolled down his face as he shared his embarrassment at doing the same to his 13-year-old son. The experience led him to an epiphany that, by beating his son, it was like he was beating his future grandchild. He then made a life changing decision to break the cycle.
The “Nonflict way” is a powerful and constructive way to resolve conflicts with our spouse/partners and with our kids, avoiding the failures of force, flee, fifty-fifty, and fold and look to co-create as a fifth option.
The Nonflict way can be broken down into three steps with questions asked. The “partner” described below is the person with whom you are in conflict.
Step 1: Understand Yourself and Your Partner
Share your view of the conflict.
What is the conflict? How does it make me feel?
What is important for me?
Your partner mirrors the essence of what you have said and asks,
“Did I understand you well? Is there anything else?”
(You and your partner switch roles and repeat the questions above.)
Step 2: Understand Your Shared Reality
You and your partner discuss together, asking yourselves:
What is our real underlying conflict?
What is working well for us?
What is our worst-case scenario? (Visualize facts and feelings.)
Step 3: Co-Create
You and your partner discuss together.
What is our best-case scenario? (Visualize facts and feelings.)
What are the obstacles to achieving our best-case scenario?
What can we do to overcome controllable obstacles? Who will do what, when?
How can we co-create in a real conflict?
Let’s take the example of a conflict I had with one of my sons about computer use after his bedtime. First, I asked him nicely and discovered he was still staying up playing video games or chatting with friends. I then tried force, telling him if he turned on his computer after 10PM, I’d take it away. I still caught him but didn’t want to go through installing and uninstalling all the components so I just fled from the conflict hoping he’d eventually do what I wanted. He didn’t.
Using the Nonflict way led to another outcome. I shared my love for Alex and my concern that staying up late would make him tired the next day, leading to poor performance at school. He repeated what he heard me say and asked me if there was anything else. In fact, there was, which was that his behavior reminded me of myself when I was his age and I didn’t do well in school until I was older. I was concerned that the same thing would happen to him, even though he had great grades.
He shared his facts and feelings about the conflict and I learned that he worked on his homework until 9:30PM and then spent about an hour after winding down with a video game or chatting with friends. It was also important to him to do well in school in addition to maintaining connections with friends, which happens online these days.
We realized that our real underlying conflict was a lack of communication and trust. What was working well for us was that we loved each other and enjoyed the time we spent together. Our worst case scenario was that we’d end up always angry with each other and grow farther apart. We’d both feel terrible. Our ideal reality was that Alex would have time for homework, friends and our parent/child relationship and we’d live in a loving and trusting household. The obstacles were that we needed to communicate and learn to trust rather than assume the worst. Our action plan was for Alex to start working on his homework an hour earlier by skipping a TV show he watched. He’d then have time to do his homework and then have an additional 15 minutes for chatting with friends, which turned out to be more important than the video game. He also spent some of the weekend teaching me about social media so I would be more comfortable with the new ways.
I’ve found the Nonflict way useful in my own parenting and step-parenting life, and parents who are among the 125,000 people we’ve trained have shared similar experiences. I’ve also found it of huge benefit in dealing with conflicts with my wonderful wife who is equally as stubborn as I.
Dr. Amir and I share many parenting and relationship stories in our book and are offering free interactive webinars to discuss your own challenges and opportunities when you contact us at [email protected]