I not only witnessed – I experienced my parent’s coping mechanisms as they headed to the Divorce Court. My father coped with his stress by being combative and confrontational while my mother coped with her stress by withdrawing.
As a product of my upbringing, I only knew of two methods to cope with stress…. be confrontational or give the “Silent Treatment”. It wasn’t until many years later as I started my training in Mediation that I learned there was a third method to cope with stress.
You will learn about two of these methods in this blog and hey – if you like the article and want to finish reading it, then sign up for my e-newsletter “Stepping Up” and the next edition will give you the full scoop on Coping with Family Stress. Simply go to my home page of www.stepbystepmediation.com and click on “sign up for newsletter”
The Social Sciences have conducted a tremendous amount of research in the area of communication and it’s relationship to conflict. They have found that when individuals are faced with relationship conflicts people chose one of three interpersonal based options to help them deal with the situation.
1. Verbal competition, aggression and confrontation
This conflict coping option is considered a negative and direct behaviour method. This method includes expressions of anger and a refusal to back down accompanied by demands that the other person concedes.
We all know someone who uses this option to deal with conflict and we also know that it comes across as hostile and aggressive which is exactly why the person uses it since it helps them to achieve the outcome they desire.
People who employ this method of coping with conflict/stress are most concerned with themselves rather than being involved with others. When they achieve the results they are looking for, this reinforces the confrontation option which actually may lead to the escalation of hostile and aggressive behaviour.
Think of a two-year old having a temper tantrum. They make a great big fuss and depending on the reaction of their parent – that fuss making actually ended up with pretty good two-year old results! Now fast forward 20-30-40 years (you get the picture) and that aggression and confrontational coping style has created some pretty good results. Although confronted individuals may concede defeat in the short-term, their experience with dealing with this individual will be chalk up to negative emotions such as resentment, anger and sadness. The chances of wanting to cooperate with this aggressive and confrontational individual again is slim to none.
Another coping option that people may choose to use is
2. Cooperation and Compromise
This method of conflict management falls under the class of positive and direct behaviour. Although little research has been done on “Compromise” it bears a resemblance to “accommodation” that has been researched.
When people are highly committed to the relationship, they are more likely to be accommodating in the relationship. A healthy relationship will demonstrate a fair degree of “give and take” in this process of accommodation. However, when there is not a fair or equal balance of accommodation then the person who accommodates the most will start to feel distress in the relationship.
We often see this unfair balance with teenagers – which is understandable since this is a stage of development in which they are trying to create autonomy and they are more invested in their friends and social network than being accommodating and cooperative with their parents and other family members. BUT…. they can be very cooperative when they are looking for cooperation from their parent (hey mom, can I borrow the car after I do my chores?).
When two or more people are faced with a conflict between maximizing personal (selfish) interest and maximizing collective (family) interest, compromise is a method used to create cooperation.
You may have guessed the third option if you read this blog from the beginning…
3. Avoidance and Withdraw
This coping method has both negative and positive results and is considered an “indirect” conflict management behaviour.
After reading and reflecting on these three coping methods, decide if there is one that seems to be your “natural default”. If Cooperation and Compromise is not your usual method of coping with stress in your family then think about the impact that the other two methods have on those people you care about. If you truly want to improve on your family communication then take action today to learn and practice Cooperation and Compromise.
If you want to read further on this topic then sign up for the Stepping Up e-newsletter and not only will you receive powerful communication tips, you will discover great educational information on families going through a divorce, Step/Blended family challenges and dealing with Senior’s and their family on their issues and concerns.
Throw in some great mediation techniques that I use in my daily practice to help families who have some pretty difficult conversations and you will get a great bang for your buck (or should I say “for zero down”) and become informed and empowered.