Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional
– Max Lucade
Today, we are going to explore the way conflicts influence self-esteem and how learning to handle them well can boost self-esteem.
Most of our conflicts with others are caused by mixed or contradicting interests. One person wants something and the other wants something else, and many times, it is impossible to compromise because there is nothing in the middle, or at least, both parties THINK there is nothing in the middle.
The main problem with conflict is that it is a magnifier. If you have low self-esteem and you find yourself in conflict, your low self-esteem will become even lower and you will have more doubts about yourself. When you have high self-esteem, you will probably handle conflicts better, which will increase your self-esteem over time and make you feel better and prouder of yourself.
Nothing is given to man on earth – struggle is built into the nature of life and conflict is possible – the hero is the man who lets no obstacle prevent him from pursuing the value he has chosen
– Andrew Bernstein
Conflicts are like bullets fired from a gun and self-esteem is like the protective vest you wear against them. High self-esteem functions like a bulletproof vest while low self-esteem allows the bullets to hurt you, damaging vital organs and your wellbeing.
Here is a step-by-step guide to conflict resolution.
Step #1 – Conflicts are inevitable
Stop asking yourself why you are in that conflict. Conflicts are not punishment for bad behavior. They are part of life. Even people with high self-esteem have conflicts. They just handle them better. Whenever this question comes into your mind, tell yourself that if people have conflicts within themselves, then it is obvious they will also have conflicts with other people. We come from different lives and experiences and we do not think the same. What is good for one is not necessarily good for the other. The doubts we have when asking “Why me?” are very draining and only increase the number of holes in your vest. Accept your conflicts as part of life.
Step #2 – What do you want?
Find out the source of the conflict. Remember there are always two parties to any dance. One wants to go to the right, the other to the left. Before doing anything, make sure you define the problem.
Many times, people spend hours in a conflict when they are not really clear about the issue, who they are arguing with or what they think the other person wants.
Ask the magic question, “What do you want?”
There is no need to create stories in your mind about the other side’s intentions. It is better to know what the conflict is really about.
Step #3 – State your needs
Once you know what the other person wants, state your own needs. Be careful not to say anything about the solution, just focus on the need. Be careful that you do not try to assert a solution as a need. Instead of saying, “I need you to take the day off so you can take the kids to the dentist”, say, “I need your help in taking the kids to the dentist”. When your kids run around and shout after a long and tiring day, instead of saying, “Be quiet, you’re giving me a headache”, say, “I’ve had a very long and tiring day and I need some peace and quiet”.
Step #4 – Restate the conflict
Now that you know what you want and what the other person wants, restate the conflict and ask the other to confirm that this is the real conflict between you. “OK, so the conflict between us is that I want to go and see this movie and you want to see another movie, is that right?” “Let’s get things clear, you want me to stop watching TV and I desperately want to watch my favorite TV show, is this the real problem?”
Step #5 – Brainstorm solutions
First look for a compromise by thinking of as many options as you can. Do not try to find the best solution, but think of anything that comes into your mind, even if it seems silly. Just coming up with options can ease the tension. Many times, people are unable to see any options and realizing that there are options is a wonderful way to tell each other that you do want to find a solution. At the same time, it allows the other person to come up with a potential solution. Take into consideration that everyone tends to consider options that favor them – it is only natural, so do not laugh or make fun, or judge any of the options at this stage – just welcome them. “What do you think about playing in your room for 10 minutes while I rest here for a while?” “How about we take turns watching our favorite shows?” “Maybe we can reschedule to an evening appointment with the dentist?”
Step #6 – Lose the anxiety
During conflicts, many people work themselves up into a state of anxiety. They are afraid of something and they can react physically to the fear. Consider the worst thing that can happen if you give the other person what they want and you can express your fears about this to the other person. Because conflicts are actually problems with contradicting interests, it is better to recognize the boundaries of the “Battle field”. Remember, “Fear makes the wolf bigger than he is”.
Step #7 – Consider timing
If you know you are getting yourself into a conflict, consider if the timing is suitable. Remember that we are talking about two different people and the time and place need to suit the other person. Consider the time of day. Tired people are much less flexible and will be less willing to compromise. Arguing with hungry people is letting yourself into the lion’s den – do not argue with hungry people (not even small ones that can hardly reach the table top).
Step #8 – Consider circumstances
If you are getting yourself into a conflict, consider the circumstances. Many people, fearing direct confrontation, bring up the conflict around others in the hope that the other person won’t make a big deal of it, when in fact, if the other person is not comfortable discussing the topic with you, he or she will be less willing to compromise and will try to end the discussion. Many times, the discomfort of having an audience will bring to the surface many more conflicts and may only make things worse.
Step #9 – Imagine a positive outcome
People with low self-esteem carry the emotions of past conflicts into each of their present conflicts. In their mind, they foresee resistance and attack the other person, even before the other person has had a chance to express themselves.
Imagine a positive outcome before you say anything and your mindset will strengthen your vest and lead to a better outcome.
Step #10 – Be brief, clear and move forward
People bring emotional baggage into every conflict. Say what you want to say briefly, clearly and aimed at a better future. Don’t say things like “Two years ago, I needed you to take the kids to the dentist…” You were different people two years ago and even then, nothing was said or done personally against you. It was something that was just good for the other person at that time. If you find yourself telling stories about what happened in the past to support your side of the conflict, you are putting holes in your vest by yourself. Justifying yourself too much is a sign of low self-esteem.
Instead, say something like, “I need you to take the kids to the dentist on Wednesday from 3 to 4pm for their annual checkup”. State what you want and make it short, clear and positive.
Step #11 – No need for third parties
Do not bring a third party into the conflict. People with low self-esteem use other people to support their point. “Even Mom said…” or worse “Everyone in the office thinks like that about you”. It may feel like your position is stronger but in fact, using this strategy will make the other side “dig in” even deeper. This will guarantee that you will never get what you want.
Step #12 – Be assertive
As I have said before (in this assertiveness post), use “I” phrases rather than “you” ones. Instead of saying,”You make me angry”, which implies that the other person intentionally wanted you to be angry, you can say, “I am angry”, which implies you take responsibility over your feelings. Sentences starting with “you” declare war (unless you are saying wonderful things about the other person). Start with “I” because in any war there are no winners, only some lose more and some lose less.
Step #13 – Be understanding
If you want to get closer to the other person and hope for him or her to do the same, acknowledge the other person’s feelings. Use many words of understanding, like “I understand you want to watch your favorite movie”, “I can see your point of view”, “I think I know what you are talking about”, and avoid adding the word “but”, which destroys the whole understanding and acknowledgment.
Use these 13 steps to build strong, high, healthy self-esteems that will minimize the conflicts you have in life.
This post is part of the series Self Esteem Mini-Course:
- What Is Self Esteem?
- How School Promotes Low Self Esteem
- Beliefs and Where They Come From
- Social Identity
- Service Your Self-Esteem
- Your Self-Esteem Checklist
- How to Get Rid of Doubts
- Assertiveness and Self Esteem
- How to Be Assertive
- Beliefs of Assertive People
- Ronit Baras’ Success Experience Theory
- Ms Self Esteem has an Identity Crisis
- Conflict Resolution
- Watch Your language or Lose Your Kids’ Trust
- War Between Two Minds
- What if
- What do I Think?
- Awareness is Half the Solution
- Damaging Kids’ Self Esteem
- Boosting Kids’ Self Esteem