What it is and why you need one!
If you haven’t already heard about what a Conflict Pact or Conflict Agreement is, we think it could easily become a tool that helps to transform your relationships at both home and work.…..and while we don’t have all the tools to completely eliminate the stress and emotion from conflict in your life, we do have some tools that can contribute to making it less intense, more reliable and hopefully safer.
A Conflict Pact can be used at home and at work and can be used formally or informally. Think about the people you spend the most time with -it could be your family, coworkers, maybe both. The amount of time we spend with someone and the investment we have in the relationship with them can tend to increase the likelihood of conflict with them. Think about some recent conflict you’ve had within your household for example. What did it feel like? If you watched a video recording of it, what would you have heard? What would you have seen? Which moments did you feel triggered by?
Consider what made you feel safe and at ease versus unsafe and tense in that conflict. Now, imagine if there was a way to make that conflict less stressful by being able to be specific about what you need in conflict, hear out what the other side needs and commit to striving for behaviors in conflict that are safe to both or all of you.
A Conflict Pact can be used to increase each individual’s commitment to setting a peaceful tone and establishing mutually agreed upon guidelines for how individuals will handle conflict that may arise. The key is, these guidelines are talked about BEFORE conflict happens, to plan for future conflict. Once conflict is occurring, it can be far more difficult to get parties on-board with using different strategies.
Here are some ways you can get started:
Think about what conflict is like for you and the things that lead to you feeling safe versus unsafe in conflict. Think about what things would contribute to you feeling safest and allowing you to communicate at your best in future conflicts.
Talk with the other person/people about 4-6 guidelines you both/all want to follow to keep things safe and productive. Try to frame these ideas positively (i.e. what you want rather than what you don’t want). Ideas that frequently come up for people tend to include details around minimizing yelling, swearing, name calling, interrupting, feeling overwhelmed, attending to body language, limiting intimidation and being allowed to take breaks.
We will speak peacefully to each other. We will try to not raise our voices in yelling.
We will let each other have an opportunity to speak without being interrupted.
We will take turns speaking.
Once you’re done, you might come up with a list that looks something similar to this, however keep in mind, you have the freedom to make this yours and include what is most important to your situation:
We will speak peacefully to each other
We will avoid name calling, swearing at each other or saying things that are unnecessarily hurtful to each other.
We will allow each other to take breaks if the conversation becomes stressful. We take no less than 15 minutes and no more than 24 hours before finishing the conversation.
We will pay attention to the feedback we are getting from the other person about how we are behaving in the discussion.
Consider whether you want to formalize this in writing or not. Many families or workplaces choose to put these agreements on paper and display them in prominent places where all members can be reminded of them. For a family, this might include on the fridge, family room or family bulletin board and can be adjusted for the ages of people included and can even include drawings or pictures. In workplaces, a formalized Conflict Pact is a great tool to keep everyone on the same page and keep a level of professionalism and respect at the forefront of communication. A workplace agreement like this can be displayed in areas like the staff room, offices, training manuals, HR manuals, etc. Other times, families and workplaces manage the agreement by committing to it verbally, revisiting it as necessary and keeping focused on what guidelines each person should be following.
Talk about what to do when one of the guidelines isn’t followed. This is a great issue to discuss during this process. It’s going to be natural that this agreement will come along with learning. Don’t expect this to work perfectly the first time! Acknowledging that all parties involved are striving for the goal of safe conflict can help to keep the process realistic. When you feel or see something happening, either from yourself or the other person, take a deep breath and calmly remind yourself or the other person what you have all agreed to and what you need from yourself/them. Remember to use ‘I Statements’ that show what you are experiencing and what you need, rather than blaming or alienating the other person.
Conflict will always occur. When we feel safe in conflict, we can engage more deeply, be more focused and deal with the issues rather than react to the symptoms. Each of us has triggers in conflict that are likely to make the conflict more stressful for us. Some people react the most to raised voices, others find the escalating body language that some people adopt when they are angry to be most intimidating. By strengthening how we handle conflict BEFORE before it occurs, we can move towards strengthening the relationship we have with the other person.
Is this a fix-all for conflict? No! But when we can disagree without hurting others’ feelings engaging in physical or verbal violence or saying things we will later regret, things can become a lot safer.
If your relationship includes physical or emotional abuse and/or if you fear for your personal safety when in conflict with an individual within your family or workplace, consider seeking the assistance of a professional when engaging in a process like this.