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Talking about conflict is a start toward resolving it

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By Cindy Beamon
Columnist

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

I found a man who has a strategy for avoiding a full-blown spat with his wife.

Hezekiah Brown of Elizabeth City has a lot of experience in helping to resolve conflicts. Over a 45-years-plus career, he's served as a professional mediator and arbitrator for big companies, the city of New York and even served on a U.S. Labor Department task force to improve relations between employees and their bosses in state and local government.

With all that practice at helping people solve problems, I wanted to hear how he handled arguments with his wife. I had the chance to ask him during an interview about his new book "All Types of Conflict Can be Resolved."

Here's one of his strategies. Before sparks fly, Brown sets an appointment with his wife to discuss tension he's feeling in the relationship. He and his wife of 57 years, Zelma Christine, wait a few days before their date. To prepare, they agree to think about how they can solve the problem, rather than brewing over what the other person is doing wrong.

Brown said it's important for people to understand what triggers their own anger and how they express emotion. Some people cry or shut down; some want to talk over the problem with friends; others become aggressive or turn to alcohol or drugs.

Listening, without interrupting, is also key to resolving the problem. he said. Both parties need to try to understand the other person's point of view -- which is not easy for people who want to win the fight more than solve the problem.

I loved what Brown and his wife do next. They discuss their differences at a nice restaurant where they must keep their voices low. The setting makes it unlikely that the conversation will get too loud or ugly.

This month, Bob and I will celebrate 33 years of marriage, and I cannot say we have ever set up a dinner date to discuss our differences. Somehow, we have found ways to deal with our conflicts -- or to be more tolerant of our differences.

Still, I find it interesting to learn how other people try to resolve their differences.

Brown said society, in general, would benefit from more conversations about how to solve problems. In his newly released book, he talks about several issues dividing our country. He also suggests that children need to be taught how to handle conflict in school. Too many kids wrongfully believe that they need to retaliate with name-calling, or even violence, when there are other options, he said.

I thought two of his strategies for resolving conflicts were especially insightful.

First, he begins the conversation by talking about what things are going well with the relationship. Next, if there is more than one issue, he tries to tackle the easiest problem to fix first. Achieving a minor victory, sets the stage for bigger victories, he said.

I am glad we have people in our community like Brown working to keep a healthy dialogue going amid too much finger-pointing.

Cindy Beamon is editor of the Albemarle Life section of The Daily Advance.

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