In the book Getting to Zero: How to Work Through Conflict in Your High-Stakes Relationships, Jayson Gaddis shows the reader how to stop running away from uncomfortable conversations and instead learn how to work through them. He shows the reader how to move from disconnection to connection, acceptance, and understanding.
What causes conflict
Conflict can be a good thing. It can save a marriage, deepen relationships, and enrich connections between a couple. But it can also be tricky to navigate when you don’t understand your response or your partner’s response. And if your relationships suffer, it can impact everything. Families, marriages, even everyday life. So, what causes conflict, and what’s a healthy way to respond? Gaddis writes that conflict is usually the result of too much distance or too much closeness. This is especially true in relationships. Either one of these things can leave you feeling threatened and cause conflict. Get too close to someone, and you worry about being attacked. Grow too distant, and you’ll worry about abandonment. It’s normal to feel triggered by closeness or distance. But it’s staying triggered that can pose serious long-term effects on your physical, relational, and mental health.
Identify your coping mechanisms
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help the situation. You start by identifying your coping mechanisms, or disconnectors. And according to Gaddis, there are basically four of these.
The first is posturing, which means attacking or blaming other people to protect yourself from harm.
The second coping mechanism is collapsing. Collapsing is the opposite of posturing, where you implode or shut down thinking the situation is your fault.
Seeking is the third one, and it’s where you feel insecure and seek out the other person to try to reinitiate connection. But this can end up only driving the other person further away.
The fourth one is avoiding. Avoiding is when you move away and put more distance between you and the other person.
Identifying how you disconnect during conflict can help you remain conscious of your negative actions and counteract them. It’s also helpful in being able to forewarn those you care about so they can help in managing conflict, too. This helps with being able to get to zero with people. That is, to get to the point where the conflict is resolved and you have the level of connection you desire.
Draw a conflict box
A conflict box is a helpful and user-friendly method in navigating conflict resolution. Making a conflict box is simple. You start by drawing a box and separating it into nine rows. In the top row, write the name of the individual you have an unresolved problem with. As an example, this could be a friend, partner, or family member. In the next row, write up to five words describing what that person did or didn’t do. In the third row, describe how you feel when you think of that person.
In the fourth row, score those feelings on a scale from one to ten, with zero as the baseline and ten being the most extreme. In row five, add the length of time the conflict has been going on. On the sixth line, write about the part you’ve played in the conflict.
For now, skip row seven, and in row eight, write down what you fear the other person will do if you tell the truth. And in row nine, write down how you’ll feel if those fears come to pass.
Finally, line seven is where you’ll practice empathy. Go back and put yourself in their shoes. Write down empathetic expressions that validate how they may feel or an emotion they may hold about your conflict. Empathizing is a crucial piece of conflict resolution in any relationship.
Listen until they feel understood
Empathy is huge in getting back to zero, but it’s not the only piece of the solution. It’s actually one step in the author’s tool for understanding the person you’re in conflict with. That tool is called LUFU, which stands for Listen Until they Feel Understood. There are eight steps to the process, but it’s an essential and easy-to-reference way to be present in conflict resolution. Presence is a vital skill of being aware of your feelings and thoughts and focusing on the other person.
- The first step is to be curious, not just about what’s being said, but about how it’s being said. And about what they may not be saying.
- The second step is to practice reflective listening. You can put that into practice by repeating back or reflecting on something your partner has said to you.
- In the third step, you confirm you understand what the other person has said by using same-page questions.
- Active listening is the fourth step of the process. This looks like pressing pause on the conversation to make sure you’re following what they’re saying.
- The fifth step is that ever-important empathizing. Honestly consider your contribution to the conflict and its impact on that person.
- Validate what the other person said. That’s the sixth part of the process that is key to acknowledging how your partner feels and showing you care.
- Step seven is owning your part. That can be as simple as saying something like, “Yes, I did that.” You don’t have to overexplain or justify.
- And the eighth step is confirming you have a shared reality. That means you make sure you understand what the other person is saying, acknowledge their experience, and are on the same page. This ensures they feel understood and seen.
Five most common conflicts
Most conflicts boil down to one of five common scenarios. When you understand the type of fight and the reason behind it, you can better work toward resolution.
Surface fights occur over superficial things, like not returning messages or how someone loaded the dishwasher.
There are childhood projections. Projecting occurs when you take a past negative or positive experience and project it onto someone else in the present. Experiences you had as a child can easily impact the way you approach and perceive conflict in your life.
The third common conflict is called security fights. Typically, these occur when one or both partners don’t feel fully secure in the relationship, impacting the security of the connection and self-esteem.
Fourth, you may have value differences. You care deeply about your values and your partner may not share the same beliefs or passions, leading to disagreements when you confront those differences.
And fifth, resentments occur when you try to change someone or someone tries to change you. If you make your expectations of each other clear, you can work to find a better outcome that works for both of you.
There will always be roadblocks to conflict resolution in your high-stakes relationship. But there are communication tools and skills you can learn to face the issue head-on and reach a solution for more connected relationships with those you love. And with those you may not be so crazy about. If you make changes and don’t see an improvement, it’s always recommended you seek out additional help. Therapy can make a world of difference in processing conflict healthily.