Whenever you have more than 1 person involved, it is natural to have a disagreement. People are different and have different opinions, thoughts, feelings, ideas, etc. Rarely are they going to always agree. They also have different histories, thus respond differently to the same events.
To resolve these disagreements, there are numerous methods people use. But are any of these ways more beneficial to both parties, and/or their relationship?
WHAT OPTIONS WORKS BEST?
The various options shown below make it clear that addressing the person who offended you directly and immediately benefits each party as well as the relationship between them. And if all parties involved know these healthy conflict management skills, and all parties are looking to resolve the issue peacefully, the discussion usually does go well and the resolution is usually found. But there are several scenarios where this does not work.
WHAT IF PROBLEMS ARISE?
If the objective of either party is not to resolve, but to “win,” then an argument can ensue and a peacefully resolution is unlikely. Since we cannot control another, if we are trying to use our healthy conflict management skills with a party who just wants to win we will need to have a discussion with them about their goals in the relationship. Perhaps they don’t have conflict management skills, and we can teach them. Perhaps they are holding a grudge against us from something else that needs to be addressed. Perhaps they have deeper issues and they may need to do some self-exploration about why they do or say what they do, and perhaps counseling for them may be in order.
If either party has a history of unhealthy confrontations with others, they may get “triggered” in the current discussion, and start talking about, or emotionally reacting to, a past event. This becomes clear when what they are saying is discussed at an emotional level considerably out of line with the current event, or if what they are saying just doesn’t make sense. If this is the case, the current issue does not get resolved, but usually comes up again, and they get triggered again, over and over. Thus the current issue never gets resolved but the relationship is slowly getting eroded. If this is the case, the triggered party needs to do some work, on their own or in counseling, to resolve their past issue so they are able to stay current.
Sometimes both parties have past negative histories, and then both parties get triggered and are reacting to past events rather than current. In this case both parties have their own work to do, individually or in counseling, to resolve their triggers before they can make this discussion work.
Likewise, if we are the one who always finds ourselves needing to win, or we are told we don’t listen when others try to talk to us, or we find we cannot admit fault, or cannot apologize, or keep feeling like we are reliving past events when we try to talk about current issues, we may need to do some exploration on our own, or in counseling, about what interferes with our ability to peacefully resolve things with people we care about.
If, however, both, or all parties have healthy conflict management skills, and are not as interested in winning as in “discussing to increase understanding” there is a good chance the conflict can be peacefully resolved.
Let’s look at the possible benefits and consequences of several options. For these examples, let’s use the scenario where one day Pat says something that Jess finds offensive.
This option is where Jess immediately tells Pat that their words upset them, and maybe why. Pat listens, maybe explains their side, apologizes, and agrees to change their wording when talking with Jess to avoid future upsets.
Pat is given the opportunity right after it happened to ask about exactly what they said or did that needs correction, and why, so they can fully understand what, why, and for who they need to change.
The discussion about this issue between Pat and Jess will often involve each sharing more about themselves – Pat sharing more about why they said or did what they did, and Jess sharing why it is a problem for them, thus deepening their understanding of each other.
When Pat apologizes to Jess, it lets Jess know they and their relationship are important to Pat.
When Jess forgives Pat, it lets Pat know they and their relationship are important to Jess.
When Pat apologizes, and Jess forgives, the issue is resolved.
If this entire encounter is kept between just Pat and Jess, it builds their trust in one another.
By Pat changing their behavior for Jess’s needs, it shows that Pat cares about Jess and their relationship.
When the whole encounter goes well, Jess feels good about standing up for self and Pat feels good about apologizing and changing so as to not hurt Jess.
If both parties have these communication skills, there are only positives from this option.
In this option, Jess does nothing.
Jess avoids the risk of a possible negative encounter with Pat.
Jess never gets to find out that Pat may not have meant to be offensive and wants to change for the sake of the relationship.
Pat and Jess never learn more about each other or that the relationship between them is important to each other.
Pat loses the chance to apologize, Jess loses the change to forgive, the issue remains unresolved.
The chance for trust building between them is lost.
They both lose out on the opportunity to feel better about self for their actions.
Since Pat was not informed that Jess found those words offensive, Pat will probably continue to offend Jess, who may start to build inner annoyance, which may build to resentment or even rage. This can come out in little ways by Jess starting to treat Pat less positively, or in large ways by a total blow out of anger.
Another option is Jess going to a 3rd party who addresses it with Pat, asking for change, without informing Pat who got offended.
Jess avoids the possible risk of a negative encounter with Pat.
Pat might forget or even doubt what they are being accused of by the 3rd Party, especially if some time has passed, thus Pat may feel they are being unjustly accused or asked to change for no reason.
Pat never finds out that Jess cares and wants a better relationship.
Jess never finds out that Pat cares and wants to have a better relationship.
Pat never gets the opportunity to apologize, Jess never gets the opportunity to forgive, and the issue never really gets resolved.
Pat may feel that even though their future encounters with others seem to have gone well in the moment, perhaps they didn’t, so Pat may start questioning their encounters with everyone.
They both lost out on an opportunity to build trust between them.
Pat may start to feel like others are talking about them behind their back - because, well, they are.
Should Pat feel any distrust around this issue, by default the distrust may generalize to everyone.
Since Pat does not know who they hurt, Pat must now treat everyone differently, possibly making Pat feel something is inherently wrong with the way they are, possibly damaging Pat’s sense of self-worth.
Jess may feel feel less confident in their ability to handle their interpersonal problems, knowing they required a third party to get involved.
If this pattern persists, with Jess talking to a 3rd Party about Pat, who is not there to defend self, over time Jess and the 3rd Party may start to add on other derogatory opinions about Pat, possibly lowering their feelings about Pat. This can also start to lower their opinions about each other, or themselves for talking about another behind their back.
Even if Jess and the 3rd Party are not saying more derogatory things about Pat, Pat may start to think that they are.
This last option is when Jess goes to the 3rd Party, the 3rd Party tells Jess to address it with Pat first, and if there is no resolution to come back.
All of the benefits listed under Option A plus:
Jess learns that if they accidentally offend someone, this 3rd party will give Jess the benefit of being allowed to address it privately with that person before the 3rd Party gets involved.
Because of the 3rd Party’s guidance, Jess is then confident that addressing it with Pat is the right thing to do, and Jess gets the added confidence that if it goes poorly with Pat, that the 3rd Party will assist.
If all parties have these communication skills, I can think of no consequences this option.