Working with jello offers three important insights into conflict resolution in relationships.
- Give it time to cool off, don’t mess with it when it’s still hot.
- Stop trying to nail it to the wall, some things can’t be solved by brute force.
- Don’t forget it in the fridge, at some point the issues must be dealt with.
Conflict resolution is tricky. People often feel like they can’t win. If you attempt to fix it immediately, you get your face bitten off. But if you do nothing, you run the risk of sending the message you don’t care. Aye Carumba! It’s enough to make you toss your hands in the air and give up! Allow me to share three lessons jello has taught me about conflict resolution and offer you a simple strategy for addressing conflict without the extremes of pushiness or apathy.
Lesson #1: Give it time to cool off – You might try to fix the problem immediately. That’s a big no-no. Give the situation and everyone’s emotions an opportunity to cool down. For some people, it may be your natural posture to give things time to simmer down, but for others, this will be extremely challenging. Please note, “giving it time to cool off” does not mean that you are allowed to make a parting shot, fire a verbal arrow, or make some melodramatic overture as you exit the room. It means that you kindly and lovingly retreat from the conflict to allow the emotional heat to dissipate.
Lesson #2: Stop trying to nail it to the wall – Some try to force resolution to occur in an effort to tie everything up in a neat little bow. You can’t nail jello to a wall and even once its cooled you have to be patient with it. It jiggles, slides, and breaks into small pieces on your plate that are hard to scoop up. Resolving conflict is much the same. You have to flexible and patient. Reject any vestiges of rigidity or expectations about how quickly conflict should be resolved. Prepare yourself for a thorough, relentless, but loving endeavor to find and scoop all the remnants of pain and conflict that are left on your plate. It won’t be easy, but you’ll enjoy your jello a lot more than if you try and cut it with a knife and eat it with a fork the way you might a pork chop.
Lesson #3 – Don’t forget it in the fridge – Once you’ve learned to let it cool off and to be patient with the process of resolution, you must fight the tendency to let it sit on ice indefinitely. The storm has calmed and it appears that we have all moved on with out lives. Why would I want to drag that old issue back out? After all, we’ve finished dinner and we didn’t even notice the jello never made it to the table! The whole thing seems harmless until you’re looking for some yogurt in two weeks and you inadvertently knock the jello off the shelf and it spills all over the floor. Or perhaps you are digging through the fridge at just the WRONG time. “Oh, I remember this argument…” However it comes up, the unresolved issues never vanish. They merely wait to be rediscovered and wreck another perfectly good meal. It’s better to pull out the conflict on your own timetable and lovingly work the issues all the way through to resolution.
A simple strategy for handling conflict.
How do you address a conflict without hitting the extremes? If you are too quick to fix things, you run the risk of aggravating your spouse, friend, or co-worker. If you wait too long you run the risk of not remembering the issue(s) or of being blind-sided by the residual pain and frustration.
Take the conflict at hand and break it into two fundamental categories – squishy (the emotional stuff) and crunchy (the logical stuff). You can’t force squishy things and you can’t ignore crunchy ones.
Step #1 – Lovingly apply a dollop of truth and love to the affected squishy aspects of the conflict. Then step away and allow that truth sufficient time to soak in.
- Example 1 – “I apologize for being insensitive. Your friendship means the world to me and I didn’t mean to be a brute. Let’s talk about it later when we both cool off.”
- Example 2 – “I’ve clearly miscommunicated here. Please know I love you dearly and I had no intention of saying anything hurtful. I’d love to talk through the details after we put the kids to bed or perhaps tomorrow.”
Dollop and soak. Don’t force it and don’t try and fix it. Avoid the desire for a quick resolution. Squishy issues of the heart need time to absorb new information and change feelings. Allow time for the truth and love you have applied to run it’s course and seep into the other person’s heart.
Step #2 – At some point the two of you will need to roll up your sleeves and get to work. The two of you have pain to unpack and a connection to rebuild.
- Example 1 – “Remember the other day when you stole my Cheetos and called me a baby for crying about it? I was hoping we could talk through that and clear the air a bit.”
- Example 2 – “I feel like we need to talk about our miscommunication earlier today. It’s important to me that we throw fewer sharp objects at each other and work as a team to avoid cuts and bruises.”
Unpack and rebuild. Don’t ignore the tough issues. Crunchy things tend to be resilient and stick around for months of even years. If you don’t unpack the pain and rebuild the lines of communication, you run the risk of being surprised by the pain like stepping on a LEGO in the middle of the night.
Next time an important relationship experiences conflict, remember the simple lessons jello teaches us. Let it cool off, don’t try and nail it or force it, but also be sure you don’t forget about it. Instead, respond immediately with truth and love (dollop and soak) followed later by a collaborative effort to solve the fundamental issues (unpack and rebuild). Relationships are both squishy and crunchy. Respond accordingly.