Fear of conflict may be the main factor distorting human communications. Can you recall a time when you did not say something you needed to say because you, “Didn’t want to fight”? This many be one of the most common human experiences. When people say or think, “I don’t want to fight.”, what do they really mean? They probably mean that they had childhood experiences where they expressed their truth and it led to a dramatic scene of conflict. Now they connect telling their truth with unpleasantness. They also mean that they expect the other person to be unhappy with what they need to say. It’s likely that in the past they have lived with “anger addicts” whose explosive tempers created a fearful atmosphere.
They mean that they’ve not been able to separate those childhood scenes from present day. They also mean that the fear has become so entrenched that they don’t even want to attempt communicating their truth. Probably they don’t think they have the right to express their truth. Lastly, they mean that they don’t have the skills to express themselves, and don’t know how to learn them.
One solution is what I call “Creating a Container”, meaning a safe container for the expression.
1. For your early practice of this skill, identify people you know who truly love and support you, that you trust, and who don’t have a history of raging. Do not do this with “anger addicts”, at least until you have gained skill.
2. Ask the person if they would be willing to work with you to help you gain skill in this area.
3. Tell them that you need a promise from them that they will not be reactive to anything you say. Explain that you want to practice, and might not say it effectively at first. Ask for their patience and feedback in hearing what you have to say, “so that you can learn”. Engage them in helping you.
4. Also ask them to work with you until the practice is complete and to agree not to leave.
– When you have “set the container”, express what you have to say. Pay attention to expressing and owning your feelings. Use “I feel” statements rather than “You do…” statements. Do not use “you” forms. “You do this…”, “You do that…” will automatically create defensiveness and start a fight.
– Pay a lot of attention to your tone of voice. Eliminate anything accusatory, victim language, whining, “You always do…” statements.
– Before you start, think about a result you want such as more help with household chores, a different kind of treatment, having some time alone, or a night out with the guys.
– Make an effort to ask for feedback from the other person, and be sure you are getting it throughout the conversation. After every statement of yours, ask about any way your expression could have been more effective, or about how it sounded to your partner.
Valuable feedback might be things like, “You seem too fearful.”, “That sounded accusatory.”, “That would make me mad.” Keep working until the feedback is that your expression works, communicates “cleanly” and is likely to give you the desired results.
– Practice this as much and as frequently as you can and you’ll find that fear of conflict no longer will prevent you from being honest about your feelings.