Ottawa Family lawyer provides tips on minimizing family conflict

I have been practicing conflict resolution for ten years.  Here is a basic model to help people resolve their disputes in a family setting.

Basic conflict resolution model:

1.  STOP before you lose control of your temper and make things worse.

2.  SAY what you want.

3.  LISTEN to the other person’s ideas.

4.  THINK of possible solutions

5.  If you still can’t agree ask someone else to help work it out.

1.  STOP

Don’t have an important discussion when you are upset.  Plan a time with the other party that makes sense (I recommend Sunday evenings, or Friday afternoons).  Come prepared to the meeting and address the issue with respect.

2.   SAY

If you are the person with the issue then it is your responsibility to communicate it.  Framing the issue is of the utmost importance in order to work towards resolution.   Do not disparage or “attack” the other party when framing the issue.  A basic rule of thumb is to frame the issue in terms of your own needs, as opposed to how you would like the other party to contribute towards resolution.

Example:

“You need to come home earlier.”  or

“You always come home late.”  vs.

“I’m really tired from being with the baby all day and I really need a break by 6 p.m.”

Very subtle difference in language and tone but it can go along way to reducing conflict.  Most dysfunctional or chronic conflict contains an element of power/control – one party having an issue and attempting to control the other’s behaviour in order to resolve the issue.

3. LISTEN

You have to understand what the problem is before you can solve it.   Listen, ask questions,   and confirm what you understand  the issue to be.  Dig down and get it to a very basic level.  “OK – so basically – by 6 p.m. you are strung out and need to have a break.  It’s not that you necessarily need me home, but that you need to rest because you are at your limit.”

4.  THINK

Now it’s time to start spitballing.  The key to success in this step is to resist the urge to evaluate (and probably shoot down) potential solutions.  At the outset simply record the ideas and encourage discussion.  Talk about what you can do, as opposed to what you can’t.”

“I can’t come home on Mondays, but I can do Fridays.”

“Even if I had three days I think I could manage the other two.”

“Who are some people we could ask for help?”

5.    GET HELP

If two parties can’t agree on a possible solution then it becomes necessary to engage a third party to help resolve the dispute.  Usually the third party is either a mediator, arbitrator, or an expert, but it can ultimately be anything.  Roll dice, high card, paper rock scissor, whatever the parties agree to.  Try anything that gives both sides what they want.  The idea at this stage isn’t to resolve the dispute, but to agree on how the dispute will be resolved.

“We’re at an impasse.  What do you say we’ll try it your way for two weeks, and then my way for two weeks.  We’ll see what works and then come back and try again.”

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