Christmas is coming soon, and it’s easy to know what everyone is going to get, whether they want it or not: CONFLICT! While this might sound funny, the truth is that this season is often incredibly stressful, which can make managing conflict more difficult than ever.
Don’t worry, though. There are a couple of things that everyone, especially young people, can do to help manage conflict this holiday season.
First, recognize that conflict is normal and natural. In fact, it’s so normal that there’s no way to avoid it! The good news is that conflict can be healthy, if handled correctly. It can help us affirm our beliefs, realize our faults, and become more empathetic people.
Second, get off the gossip train and quit gathering a posse. I love Western movies, especially Tombstone. At one point in that movie, Doc Holiday shows up with a posse to save Wyatt Earp from meeting his end at the O.K. Corral. Unfortunately, this type of solution works only in the movies. When a person has a conflict with someone in real life, what happens more often than not is that rather than initiate a healthy conversation, that person will jump on the gossip train and head out to recruit additional passengers. I would dare to say that everyone is guilty of having done this at one point or another. Part of this is natural. We are programmed to think that there is strength in numbers, and winning others to our side makes us feel safe. The problem is that when we fall into this behavior pattern, we have a tendency to seek out only individuals who will agree with our limited perspective. This keeps us from analyzing our own role in the conflict and from considering that the other person might teach us something that can help us become better humans.
Third, talk to a BFF or trusted adult. When dealing with conflict, it is important to express your feelings and process your thoughts. To avoid ending up on the gossip train, find one wise friend or an adult you trust to discuss the conflict. Begin your conversation by asking that person to not disclose the details of your conflict to others. This will help preserve an opportunity for you to reconnect with the other person in your conflict and hopefully repair that relationship. Take ownership of your part in the conflict, as it is rare for either party in a disagreement to be without fault, and use statements that describe your experiences and your feelings without demeaning the other person.
Fourth, while talking about the conflict with a trusted person, focus on what happened and how it made you feel, rather than focusing on the “why” of the issue. Often, factors you are unaware of are contributing to the conflict. Instead of assuming the worst about the person you disagree with, give that person the same benefit of the doubt you would want for yourself. Also, avoid speaking to anyone else about the matter once you have consulted a trusted individual. Involving more people is just “stirring the pot,” and inevitably, the pot gets stinkier the more it is stirred.
Doing these four things greatly increases the chances of your being able to resolve the conflict in a peaceful manner.
The final thing I would suggest is that when it is time to make peace, open the conversation with a genuine apology, even if you are still struggling with the need to be right. Apologizing doesn’t make you wrong; it just puts the other person in an easier position to also apologize. Here’s to fighting fair and having happy holidays!
Matt Raper is the middle school principal at Ivy Academy in Chattanooga, Tenn.