Nonviolent Communication & Conflict Management

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart” (Nelson Mandela).

“A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” Prov. 15:1 (KJV).

“Conflict is not simply an argument or a struggle; it’s an interaction between two or more Inter depende t people who perceive that they have contradictory goals or scarce resources” (O’Hair, 2015, p. 214). However, conflict management is the “way that we engage in conflict and address disagreements with our relational partners” (O’Hair, 205, p. 214). I can think of many instances and conversations, I’ve had, that either ended in disagreements. In those conversations, many have turned to arguments where I’ve experienced conflict emotional and spiritually.

In 1998, I was friends with one of the unpopular girls at girl. She claimed that no one was nice to her and I felt bad that no one was her friend. For months, we went many places together and had many daring and mischievous adventures. In was a Friday night and we were all at church. I remember as my dad pulled up to the front doors of the church, a crowd gathered and she was in the midst of the crowd. I got out and walked to the front door and asked her if she was okay. It was at that moment she accused me of “stealing” her boyfriend.

I had no idea what she was talking about. However, she proceeded to accuse me of hanging out with him, sharing a soda with him, and sitting by him. She then walked up to me and took my glasses off my face and said she was going to hit me in the face for betraying her. As the drama and instigators continued, I took my glasses back and told her, “If you’re going to hit me over a boy, then do it. I thought we were friends. Friends don’t accuse each other of this like this without coming to each other first. So, if you’re going to hit me over a guy then do it. Just know this, I would never distract you or our friendship over some foolishness like this.” Although she was mad, she didn’t hit me and I walked into the church unharmed.

Another disagreement I had was with a colleague I used to work with a two years ago. After work, I went to pick up my children and in the midst of picking them up I began to talk with another teacher in the room about something that was troubling me personally. As my children stood next to me, another teacher started to sharply talk to my boys. “Don’t put your dirty hands on my stuff.” I looked around and thought she may have been talking to the 3-year old children behind the door. Then she said, “Y’all need to get out my class. I already cleaned it and I’m not cleaning it again.” At this point it was only my children that were in the classroom and the teacher I was talking to said, “Allison.. calm down. We don’t want to see the Jamaican come out”.

I then turned to her and calmly asked her if she was okay and if she was having a bad day. She quickly snapped back and said, “you’re off the clock and you need to take your kids and go.” I “ooosaa’d” took a deep breath and told her, if she’s having a bad day, she doesn’t need to take it out on my kids or myself. I will not stoop down to your level of “professionalism” and lose my job. I will report your tone and form of abuse to the director. Never should a child ever hear you talk to them in that manner whether they are in your care or not.”

Both instances started with conflict. Both could’ve been addressed and handled another way. Some strategies that I know I’ve learned prior to these incidents are:

  • Keeping level-headed in the midst of conflict
  • Embracing the conflict. I didn’t avoid it or pretend it didn’t happen.
  • I listened to what they were saying and what they weren’t saying. Most times when other lash out there’s an underlying reason that has nothing to do with the person they are in conflict with. We were just the straw that broke the camels back.
  • I was willing to talk the person and a mediator who would be honest and not bias to the situation. Sometimes this doesn’t always work because there are those that enable others but I believe in the Matthew 18 Principle. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not here, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three weaknesses everywhere it may be established” (Matthew 18:15,16)
  • Although there were time I didn’t want to forgive their actions; I was quick to forgive the person, regardless of who was right or wrong.

I do believe that some of these principles can be used to help me manage and resolve conflict in a more productive manner. Looking beyond the borders of what’s in front of you can also be a solution to most disagreements. I do believe that the principles of nonviolent communication would be a great tool to use trying to resolve conflict.

A question to my readers: How could’ve these examples gone differently? What would you have done different than I?

Resources

O’Hair, D., Wiemann, M., Mullin, D.I., & Teven, J. (2015). Real communication: An Introduction (3rd ed). New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. p. 214.

The Bible, Matthew 18: 15-18

The Bible, Proverbs 15:1

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