Conflict Management 2 - Assertiveness and the timeout

Psychological tools for wellness / Category / Emile Du Toit / November 3rd 2014

If you haven’t yet read Conflict management 1: Conflict management styles then this would be a good time. Conflict management styles provide an overview of conflict management and how they manifest. Assertiveness in Action follows on from this and will verse you in a pragmatic modus operandi for dealing with conflict in an assertive manner.

Assertiveness in Action

The theory of assertiveness is all good and well, but how do you actually apply this to your multi-various relationships? The model I am going to show you is flexible enough to handle different types of conflicts with different types of people.  Quite obviously though the more emotionally distant that you generally are from the person, and the more business oriented your relationship, the lower the emphasis you will place on sharing feelings and letting the other person know where you are at. Sobbing on your bosses lap is generally considered uncool!

The example I am going to use is indeed of a romantic relationship as this tends to involve all of the necessary assertiveness skills, which as discussed is not the case for conflict management situations in all types of relationships. First though, I am going to digress for a moment.

What is conflict?

Well of course we all know what conflict is, so you would assume that the various dictionaries would have their definitions nailed down. In my opinion, not so much… The part that they either only imply or leave out completely is that interpersonal conflict involves, definitively, at least two people, but that it is not necessary for both parties to be aware of the conflict for a conflict to have developed. So if the USA starts lining up troops along the border for an attack on Mexico due to some perceived slight, de facto a conflict situation has developed whether or not Mexico is aware of the perceived transgression.

This is important as often part of the justification for the passive-avoidant or passive-aggressive to not present their grievance to their partner is that they don’t feel a responsibility to bring it up. Often with the passive-aggressive the justification is that the other person ‘should know what they did’ so they don’t feel they have to communicate the problem to them. Within the conflict management sphere if one person is unhappy based on what another has done then this is a conflict, which needs to be managed like any other conflict situation – by following an assertive conflict management strategy.

A practical assertiveness model

Do not react or engage!!

Often, in contrast to the above point, conflict situations kick off with both parties being ever so aware that there is a problem as the situation rapidly spirals out of control. So the first sign of trouble might be when your husband is already yelling at you. Quite possibly your first impulse is to want to yell back. Alternatively, you feel the facts are being misrepresented and if you are like me you just want to say that ‘one thing’ before you quit the situation. Which leads to them saying ‘just one thing’ and suddenly things are way out of control. So your first job is to suck it up and get out of the situation.

Call a timeout

Let’s face it, how many times do you actually resolve anything once one or both of you are furious? In any situation where at least one of you is pretty riled up the absolute best thing you can do is to call a timeout. You say something simple like ‘I can see you are really upset and I would like to discuss this with you, but as you know we never actually resolve anything when we are wound up so let’s meet up at 8pm to chat about what happened’. You then make for the hills, irrespective what verbal tirade follows you out of the room.

So what are the points that need to be covered when calling a timeout:

  1. An acknowledgement that there is a problem
  2. An acknowledgement that the other person is affected by it
  3. A clear message that you do wish to discuss the problem
  4. A clear message that this is not a helpful time for the relationship for you guys to chat about it now and that you are not going to engage with it at this point.
  5. That it will be discussed as at a proximal moment. However, this is not some loophole for the passive-avoidant’s out there. Very importantly you then need to immediately set up a specific time that works for both of you. 
What does one do during a timeout?

The basic idea behind a timeout is to give both partners time to calm down and compose their thoughts. Different people use different techniques to offload and calm down. Some might go for a run, chat to a friend, go to a meeting or sponsor (in the case of addicts and alcoholics) or write emotive poetry. The important thing is that you need to work out what helps you reduce stress and stick to these techniques.

Once calm, it is vital that both parties write down a synthesis of what is going on in order to prepare for the conflict management conversation. I say synthesis as you are not going to be reading to your partner, but talking to them!

However, the following topics should be included:
  1. The relevant details that you believe transpired; your ‘objective reality’ (i.e. subjective opinion) of the facts
  2. What you understand the other person is feeling and how they see the situation, and
  3. How you feel about the event and the conflict

 

This concludes Conflict Management 2: Assertiveness and the timeout. If you havn’t read Conflict management 1: Conflict management styles then this would be a good time. Otherwise you can move on to the 3rd and final chapter in this brief series: Conflict Management 3: The 10 point plan to an effective conflict management session.

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