A big conflict in my life that has just been recently managed is a conflict between me and my mother. In late 2011, my boyfriend Alex and I decided to move in together. We had discussed for quite some time, the consequences of continuing to live with my family and how that would affect me in our relationship long term. When this decision was discussed with my mother, she was in complete denial about it happening until the day before my move.
Before moving out and in the process of moving out, my mother was in the covert stage of Eunson's (2007) conflict spiral. Before my moving, she was uncooperative, but during my move she became tolerating of my decision and gossiped with her friends about the bad decision I was making. Soon after my move, however, my mother showed overt stages of Eunson's (2007) conflict spiral. She started nagging and whining for me to visit her often and would be angry and complain when I wouldn't. She also blamed Alex for my moving out and would involve other issues I confided in her early in me and my boyfriend's relationship. In our arguments she had selective perception and any word in regards to my apartment or my boyfriend would be a hot-button word. Fortunately, it never reached the higher points of overt conflict in Eunson's (2007) spiral which are: formal complaint, formal actions, provocation, retaliation and violence. The conflict spiral allowed me to define which stage of conflict my mother and I had in regards to this issue, but it was when I was introduced to Cornelius and Faire's (2006) signs or clues of interpersonal conflict that I knew my mother and I were dealing with a conflict. Cornelius and Faire (2006) believe the signs of conflict look like a downwards arc with discomforts at the top, to incidents, then misunderstandings, then tension and finally crisis at the bottom. When I told my mother I was moving out I felt discomfort arise in our relationship. Then when she asked me why I was moving out and I told her it would be a better environment to study, she used selective hearing and that caused much misunderstanding between us until Alex sorted it out. After I moved out there was tension. I was expected to visit once a week, which I believed was fair, but when I couldn't for legitimate reasons, my mother got extremely angry and we would argue again. I believe that these arguments would have been resolved faster if I had a different attitude.
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Cornelius and Faire (2006) also examined conflict behaviours and the patterns of those behaviours. These behaviours are "Fight", "Flight" and "Flow". "Fight" is generally known as aggressive behaviour where anger is a huge component, but not always violence. "Flight" is also known as passive behaviour where one's own needs or feelings are ignored and others disregard them. "Flow" can be described as assertive behaviour where both the rights of yourself and the rights of the other person are met. My mother and I both have more of a "fight" behaviour than any other and so when we conflict, we argue a lot. In regards to the conflict of my moving out, after a while, I began to use the flight behaviour because I didn't want to deal with all the fighting anymore. In the long-term, this made me feel very pent-up in my emotions and it made me feel very unhappy, especially when talking to my mother. I could tell my mother's mood had improved, however, because she thought she was winning the argument.
I noticed that when I began the process of active listening in this conflict, I became more aware of what a positive difference it made to use the skill of active listening. Rogers and Farson (1957) believe that active listening requires us to grasp the point of view of the person you are speaking with, and understand what it is he or she is communicating to us whilst conveying that we see things from his or her point of view. Active listening directly correlates to empathy which is defined by the conflict resolution network as "sensing another's feelings and attitudes as if we had experienced them ourselves. The following is an extract of a conversation I had with my mother where I show active listening and empathy:
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Me: Mum, I understand that you're upset because I've moved out, but I'd like you to tell me specifically why. I want to make sure I understand what you've been telling me these past few months.
Mum: I think you're just too young to have to deal with the problems adults have to face in the real world. I want you to stay home where you can stay clear of disruptions and concentrate on your HSC! I just don't think you can do that in an environment where you have to worry about housework all the time.
Me: Ok, I think I get what you're trying to say, but I just want to let you know that I'm capable of making these decisions for myself now. I feel comfortable living with Alex and housework is not an issue at all because Alex pulls his own weight too, so you don't have to worry about it.
This example shows that empathy and active listening are evident because a complex concern or need is uncovered and the relationship had somewhat improved between me and my mother, although the conflict still continued. I think, however, that towards the end complete active listening and empathy were not achieved because I didn't word my last sentence correctly: I believe I should have said something along the lines of "Ok, I think I get what you're trying to say, thanks for letting me know what's worrying you, but I think from now on you should just trust me that I'm making the right decision" This way my mother couldn't have had another platform to step on and the conflict would not have continued for much longer. I also believe that I found it difficult to empathise with my mother after the conflict had gone on for so long because of how much tension was in our relationship and because of the sour emotions that would continuously be brought out whenever the hot button words were mentioned. In this extract of one of the conflicts, however, and the conflicts that continued from them, I was able to control those emotions of anger and frustration a little more by taking deep breathes to clear my head before speaking and then later on discuss this anger with my boyfriend who had similar feelings as mine. I felt like this helped us both a lot so that we wouldn't take out our anger on my mother to her face and were more civilised and empathetic towards her. Towards the end of the conflict, it reduced the sour emotions immensely so that now whenever the hot button words come up Alex and I are almost completely unaffected. Towards the end of the conflict I also learnt to Acknowledge Forgive and Let go (AFL) which also improved the relationship and allowed closure through use of empathy and active listening.
Earlier in the term, I finally got fed up with all the conflict between me and my mother. After learning about it in class, I attempted to reduce my aggressive nature when dealing with conflict and to attempt appropriate assertiveness. Withers and Lewis (2003) believe that assertive communication allows complaisant, honest and direct interpersonal communication. The "I" statements are the best way to achieve this and drastically improved the relationship between me and my mother. The "I" statements are three statements "When (I am)â€¦", "I feel (like)â€¦", "and what I'd like is thatâ€¦". The "I" statements are used to communicate clearly with another person about a problem without blaming, demanding or attacking. I used the "I" statements on my mother when I called her up to organise a meeting in the following week. Here is how it went:
Mum: Hello dear, how are you?
Me: Hi mum, I'm good, listen about the moving out thingâ€¦
Me: When it is brought up so often I feel upset because it is a decision I made on my own. What I'd like is that I receive more support for my decisions in the future.
Mum: (silence) Ok dear
Later my mother told me that my "I" statement took her aback and made her realise that she has to learn to trust me. And although she is still learning to trust me more to this day, our relationship has considerably improved thanks to a change in attitude.
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I believe in this conflict I have learnt a lot about myself and have changed my attitude positively. I have allowed myself to understand the different stages of conflict outlined by Eunson (2007) and the signs of conflict described by Cornelius and Faire (2006). I also changed so that my usual conflict behaviour changed from fight into flow. I became more empathetic and learnt the skill of active listening through allowing myself to manage my emotions by breathing and talking to a third person, and to AFL. I also learnt the skill to become appropriately assertive and using "I" statements affectively to manage conflict. I believe in the future, when another complication or conflict arises, whether it be a conflict of this magnitude or one to a lesser extent, I will be able to identify it in its tracks from an early stage allowing me to manage it more effectively in less time all because of a change in attitude. William James (FIND YEAR) states "Whenever you're in conflict with someone, there is one factor that can make the difference between damaging your relationship and deepening it. That factor is attitude." (William James, retrieved from Polidori, 2009, Para. 1).