What happens when we want to resolve conflict but the other party doesn’t?
Sometimes we’re in conflict and one party wants to try and resolve it while the other doesn’t. It’s very common for parties to process at different speeds, and feel differently about what happened and the level of impact.
We can’t force someone to resolution. If someone isn’t ready to engage then trying to convince or coerce them is counterproductive.
Often times when we try to push someone to resolution it’s because we don’t want to sit with the discomfort that conflict can bring up. We are uncomfortable with someone being upset with us. We are scared we might lose this relationship. We are worried what other people will think. We are concerned about what will happen in the spaces and communities mutually shared. These fears often push people into trying to force a resolution and end up engaging in the fear based behaviours/actions of premature resolution.
Premature resolution can look like:
-taking responsibility for something we don’t fully understand or agree with
-ignoring or crossing our boundaries in order to make the other party happy
-ignoring or crossing the other person’s boundaries in order to force them to engage
-forgiving someone when we are not ready to forgive
-making promises or commitments we can’t keep
-lying about our level of understanding or agreement (or simply just not being fully clear on it)
Premature resolution can cause:
-repeat behaviours and incidents which caused the conflict
-coercion and manipulation
-unhealthy power dynamics
-unresolved feelings of anger, disappointment, hurt, etc.
-continued and even escalated conflict
A lot of what I’ve witnessed in my work is that people do not think that they can let go of a conflict without the other person’s forgiveness. That they cannot learn from the experience or be accountable without the other person’s permission. This simply isn’t true.
SOMEONE NOT WANTING TO RESOLVE CONFLICT WITH YOU DOESN’T MEAN :
-YOU CAN’T LEARN FROM THE EXPERIENCE
- You can take lessons from the conflict without the other party’s involvement. Self reflection is not a process you need the other party for and although they might have answers to questions you want answered, you can still find ways to learn from the experience without them.
-YOU CAN’T BE ACCOUNTABLE
- Accountability is not about forgiveness. Often times we want forgiveness because it relieves us of guilt we are carrying. We can still strive to be accountable for our behaviour even if the other party doesn’t want to tell us what that might look like (often they don’t know yet if they aren’t ready to engage). Accountability is done to better oneself and to ensure that one doesn’t perpetuate the same hurt/harm again towards other people. We can find other people in our circles or communities to engage with us in doing this work or we can engage in more self directed practice.
-YOU CAN’T FIND ALTERNATIVE SUPPORT(S)/GUIDANCE
- If the other party doesn’t want to speak to you about the conflict, you can still speak about it to other people in your life (friends, family, therapists, etc).
-YOU CAN’T BE FORGIVEN
- A person can forgive you for something and still not want to engage with you. Not all relationships can be repaired or look the same way again after conflict. Or perhaps forgiveness cannot happen right now because the party needs more time to let go. That doesn’t mean it might not happen in the future.
-YOU CAN’T FORGIVE YOURSELF
- Someone not forgiving you doesn’t mean you cannot forgive yourself. Along with striving for accountability, learning to be able to forgive yourself for what happened are important steps in moving through and letting go of conflict.
-THAT THE CONFLICT WILL NEVER BE RESOLVED
- People process at different speeds and sometimes need more time and space. This is okay! In fact, I often recommend people give themselves time and space to properly process an incident, particularly really intense or traumatic ones. Time supports healing and promotes self reflection.
When we try to rush to resolution we are often being driven by a desire to ‘fix’ the situation. We want to clear our conscious more than we want to understand or be accountable. Next time you feel that urge and the other party tells you they’re not ready: take a deep breathe, respect their boundary, and use that time to engage in your own self reflective process. You may notice that you’ll move through various phases full of different thoughts and emotions. This is normal as we try to make sense of what happened and how to move forward.