Today I again became the referee during a debate between two of my sons. For the most part, they were managing it well. However, it was veering into “he said, he said” territory. I sensed resolution eluding them, so I inserted myself into the discussion with my favorite conflict resolution question.
At the end of this post, we’ll chat about the secondary – but perhaps most important – benefit of helping our children effectively resolve their conflict.
The main question I pushed toward: “What do you want? Right now? As a result of this discussion, what do you want from your brother?”
There were a handful of wants on both sides:
- “I want to be listened to completely without being interrupted.”
- “I don’t want my brother to ‘force’ chores on me.”
- “I would like more cooperation when we’re home alone watching our little brothers.”
Rational, fair, and clear requests.
However, what was getting them off track were two classic behaviors they each tend to exhibit:
- One likes to make “always and never” statements. These are always inflammatory and never help. See what I did there? Always and never are tricky words. They’re like sand in the gears of healthy communication.
- The other declares a mistrial based on the technicalities. “You said always, and that’s not true!” So, rather than listen and learn, he wants to get off the hook by citing “that one time…”.
Amidst the swirl, I like to inject the “What do you want?” question. It forces each player in the drama to pause for a moment and do some self-reflection. Sometimes, the answers are quite revealing, even unrealistic:
- “I want him to do what I say all the time.” (get real)
- “I want to not ever be interrupted.” (dream on)
Usually, when we get on the “what do you want” line of questioning, both parties start listening a bit more. Instead of absorbing more “charges” being filed, they’re hearing more needs expressed. This tends to take the temperature in the room down and make the situation more conducive to mutual understanding.
The best part
Beyond the brotherly resolution, here’s the secondary benefit. And, I’d argue the more important one. This gives them a skill that’ll be quite handy when they’re a husband! I don’t know about you, but when I drop the “always and never” bombs in conversations with my lovely bride, it usually gets us off track and impedes healthy dialogue.
I told my boys yesterday, “Hey, part of what I’m doing is preparing you for marriage. If you take this same approach with your wife one day, it’ll make for a bumpy ride. I want to help you become a godly husband, and that starts right now.”
As a guy who wants to be an intentional father, I need to be willing to jump into these situations and help my boys learn healthy conflict resolution skills. Short term, this helps them be better brothers (and makes our home more livable!). Long term, it plants seeds for their future marriages.