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The following process should be agreed upon as a central part of your Family’s Operations Manual, which you can download here.

It takes patience and courage to listen to people who are upset with us, but it is the only real way to resolve problems. Arguing or avoiding the issue will only upset the offended person even more than they are already, making the conflict drag on.

Genuinely resolving conflict can only happen with an increased level of understanding. When this happens, it tends to deepen the trust and attachment in a relationship. Unresolved conflict, on the other hand, will erode trust.

This process is not about right or wrong or who is better. It is the fastest way to resolve issues and stop them from escalating into fights.

Following is the conflict resolution process we recommend your family consider adopting…

~The Cooper Family’s Conflict Resolution Process~

It should be understood that while we love each other, there will be times when we will have grievances with each other for any number of reasons. As we value our relationships and want to avoid hard feelings, we have a process that doesn’t leave conflict resolution up to chance.

This process is available for any family member to access if they are unhappy with anyone else.

The asking person agrees:

1. They will bring up their complaint at an appropriate time—in private—and do their best to allow the problem to be resolved.

2. They will air their grievances directly, telling the other person what the problem is and how they feel while staying as calm and polite as possible.

3. They will allow the person time to think about what they have said (if they ask for this) or to schedule a better time to talk if they are busy or emotionally unprepared.

4. To try and consider the other person’s point of view in reaching an understanding.

The asking person agrees NOT to:

1. Stew on things or expect the other person to guess what they are upset about.

2. Put down the other person to anyone else before seeking a resolution.

3. Use derogatory or insulting language.

3. Refuse time for the problem to be resolved and continue to hold the offending party in judgment.

4. Insist on talking about their grievance after the offending party has asked if they can continue the discussion later.

The answering person agrees:

1. Even if they believe there has been a mistake or misunderstanding and don’t understand why the person is upset with them, their first response should be to overcome the desire to argue and show they care about the other person’s feelings.

2. To attempt to understand the situation from the asking party’s point of view by listening and asking questions that show they want to understand the asking person’s perspective.

3. Show empathy by imagining the situation from the other person’s point of view until they find a new level of understanding to bring to the discussion.

4. Only apologise once the new understanding has helped resolve the problem.

5. Only talk about their side of the story once the above has happened.

The answering person agrees NOT to:

1. Be defensive by arguing and telling the asking person they are wrong.

2. Avoid resolving the problem or act like it isn’t important.

3. Apologise before they have brought a new level of understanding to the issue or before the aggrieved person genuinely feels the problem has been discussed and resolved so that it won’t happen again.

4. Say things like, “Yeah, I am a terrible person, aren’t I?” or be passive-aggressive in any other way.

5. Bring up problems they have with the asking person (if they have a problem they want addressing they should raise it at another time)

6. Act like the problem is the asking person’s fault or like the asking person doesn’t deserve consideration or respect.

Example 1:

Joe is upset with Jane because he thinks she has borrowed his T-shirt without asking.

Joe says to Jane: “I looked for my T-shirt last night and couldn’t find it, now this morning I see it’s in your room.” (Joe raises the problem)

Jane says: “Hey, that must have been frustrating Joe. Were you wanting to wear it somewhere?” (Jane shows she cares and is ready to listen and consider the problem from his perspective)

Joe: “Yes, I spent 30 minutes looking and then thought I had lost it, which upset me. That’s my favourite T-shirt, and by the way, who said it’s okay to come into my room?” (Joe tells Jane clearly what happened from his perspective)

Jane: “So you didn’t know where it was, and you were worried you might not ever find it?” (Jane shows empathy and offers a guess at what he might have been feeling to prove she has genuinely put herself in his shoes)

Joe: “Yes, at least you could have asked; it’s not like you don’t have my phone number!” (Joe suggests what might prevent this from happening again)

Jane: “Okay, I understand that must have been upsetting, especially after it slowed you down. I am sorry it messed up your night.” (Jane shows empathy again and says she is sorry this happened to him without being defensive)

Joe: “That’s okay, I had a good time anyway. I just hope you won’t take clothes out of my room again.” (Joe calms down and accepts her apology)

Jane: “Well, actually, I didn’t take your t-shirt; I think mum must have washed it and mistakenly put it in my room instead of yours.” (Only now that the break has been healed, Jane explains her side of the story)

Joe: “Really! And I blamed you!” (Joe feels bad that he jumped to the wrong conclusion—regret that he probably never would have expressed if in the beginning Jane had reacted defensively)

Jane: “Yeah, but that’s okay, I understand it probably really looked like I took it. I would have been angry too.” (Jane accepts that he is sorry and shows more empathy and understanding)

Joe: “Hey, thanks for understanding, and sorry that I blamed you.” (Their relationship is strengthened and deepened from the misunderstanding)

If Jane didn’t follow the process, the exchange may have gone more like this:

Joe says to Jane: “I looked for my T-shirt last night and couldn’t find it, now this morning I see it’s in your room.” (Joe raises the problem)

Jane: “Don’t blame me, why don’t you keep better track of your clothes!” (Jane reacts defensively and makes no attempt to understand Joe’s problem)

Joe: “Are you serious! Look at your stuff all over the floor.” (Joe feels angrier than he did when he first shared the problem he had with her, and the conflict escalates)

Jane: “At least I don’t blame anyone else if I lose stuff. What were you doing in my room anyway?” (Jane continues to blame Joe without attempting to understand Joe’s problem)

Joe: “In your room? You are the one that’s been in my room!” (Joe tries again to explain what he is upset about)

Jane: “As if… what would I want with your stuff that smells like dirty socks? I can’t believe you think I would even want to wear your clothes.” (Jane continues to blame Joe without attempting to understand Joe’s problem and her attacks now becoming insulting and personal)

At this point, Joe and Jane are so angry at each other that even when they finally figure out what has happened, they continue with personal attacks and hashing over grievances from the past. Mum and Dad step in, and it becomes an all-in family fight that carries on for days.

This example shows that even when the asking person is mistaken about what has happened, it is still better to empathise and try to understand before arguing or telling them they’re wrong.

This decision to use empathy when someone comes to you with a problem takes courage and patience, but resolving the situation in this way will permanently save time and hard feelings in the long run.

Example 2:

Jane comes to Joe and is upset about him not paying her back the money that he has borrowed.

Jane: “Joe, I lent you that money last weekend, and you said you would pay me back on Tuesday. It is Friday, and I am still waiting.” (Jane raises the problem)

Joe says: “Oh yeah, I did say that, and you know, I forgot. Have you been waiting for the last three days to bring this up with me?” (Joe shows empathy and increases his understanding of how she must be feeling, proving he has genuinely put himself in her shoes)

Jane: “Yes, it is uncomfortable that you make me wait and then put me in a position where I have to ask you.” (Jane confirms he is on the right track and starts to feel better that she can admit she was uncomfortable about bringing up the issue)

Joe: “After you were so good about giving me a loan, I guess that must feel lousy.” (Joe continues to show empathy)

Jane: “Yeah – I thought I was being a good sister to you, and now you make things so uncomfortable.” (Jane is glad that Joe understands and is much calmer now)

Joe: “I’m sorry, Jane. You are a great sister, and I should treat you better than that. The problem is I forgot, and now I don’t have the money I owe you. Justin is paying me back tomorrow—will that be soon enough?” (Joe only apologises when he trusts the solution he has to offer might genuinely resolve the problem)

Jane: “Yeah, sure, just as long as I don’t have to ask again.” (Problem solved with new understanding)

Joe: “No way, I promise I will pay you back as soon as he pays me.” (commitment to act on new understanding)

If Joe didn’t follow the process, the exchange may have gone more like this:

Jane: “Joe, I lent you that money last weekend, and you said you would pay me back on Tuesday. It is Friday, and I am still waiting.” (Jane raises the problem)

Joe: “You’ll get your money, stop nagging me!”

Joe leaves. (Joe is defensive, blames Jane and avoids resolving the problem)

In this example, Joe ends the confrontation by cutting it short. But this doesn’t save time in the long run. Jane’s resentment burns, and even though Joe does pay her back, the next time he asks for something, she is nasty towards him. He retaliates by judging her character negatively, and the issue plays out unresolved over their lives, even affecting their children.

Caring and empathy are often called soft skills, but their impact on your quality of life will always be dramatic.

What to do if a family member fails to follow the process when you have a problem with them…

  1. Give them the process above and ask if they agree to follow it.
  2. If they don’t agree or put you off, end the conversation. Say something like, “I don’t see this conversation going anywhere productive.”
  3. Write down what happened, self-soothe, get on with your day and forget about the problem for a day or two.
  4. When you are on better terms, ask again if they agree to the conflict resolution process. If they say no, then say it will need to be discussed as a family. If they say yes, then present your problem again and ask that they address it with empathy.
  5. If they still do not bring any new understanding, suggest again that you may need to raise the issue in a family meeting where other family members can support them in sticking to the process.
  6. If it goes to the family, other members should try not to take sides but insist that the process is followed, giving examples if needed.

What to do if a family member fails to bring up their problem with you in this manner and talks about you behind your back or blames their moods or bad behaviour on you…

  1. Make it clear (in front of other family members if possible) that you will not tolerate this. Say, “If you have a problem with me, use our conflict resolution process and let it be resolved. Otherwise, I will not take responsibility for your bad behaviour.”

What to do if you are too scared to be honest about a problem with another family member…

  1. Write your problem to them in a short letter saying clearly what it is, that you hope it can be resolved using the family’s conflict resolution process, and that you are happy for them to choose the time and place.
  2. If they ignore you or respond poorly, ask another family member to support you, holding them to the process.

What to do if the person angry with you keeps raising the same problem with you without letting it be resolved…

  1. End the conversation. Say something like, “I don’t see this conversation going anywhere productive.” Then excuse yourself, do something else, and leave their presence; consider if they are gaining some advantage from blaming you. Reasons for this may include starting fights as an excuse to leave the house and go elsewhere/blaming you as a smokescreen for their wrongdoing/avoiding talking about things they may be hiding/trying to provoke you to get angry so they can blame you.
  2. work through the steps in Back From the Looking Glass.



Kim is the author of seven books on the topic of relationships and emotional intelligence.

A prolific multi-media content innovator, Kim has created and shared a library of articles and multi-media educational tools including radio shows,
movies and poetry on 'The NC Marriage', and 'The Love Safety Net'.

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. This is a really great idea to follow. Conflicts would be resolved and grudges would be dropped. J am looking forward to implementing it in my family.

  2. I have 2 sons who I need to work out their orientation between normal the symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This guide will help me deal with them and maybe work out who they are.
    Like you Kim, I am a nurse.. retired since 2003. I have admired your emails and knowledge in narcissism and the use of conflict resolution. I have printed out the Conflict Resolution Process and look forward to reading and committing as much to memory as possible. I sincerely thank you for it and your constant hard work.
    Regards, Noel D Pulleine
    Western Australia.

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