Recently I got into a disagreement with another that quickly degenerated into a heated exchange -- primarily on his end. It began over a trivial but untrue statement that he made. Unwisely, I responded bluntly with the proven (and verifiably accurate) facts. Instead of conceding his error, he became enraged and the dialogue migrated into a personal attack on me which left me feeling a bit shaken, not because I internalized or believed any of the attack but because I was stunned just how quickly things turned ugly.
Upon reflection, it was equally my fault. Though my initial response to him was factual correct, it wasn't "true" in the sense that it didn't take into account his emotional needs, mental makeup, and personality. Instead of helping him see more clearly, his ego engaged and he locked himself even more deeply into his position. It reminded me that in times of convict, it's imperative to tune into the other person's reality first and craft our response so that it serves them best. It's not what is easiest for us.
That's not entirely what I want to discuss here. While the above is sound advice for avoid future conflicts, it doesn't help much when we find ourselves in the middle of a challenging interpersonal situation. This fellow and I are already considerably far down the road of hard feelings. What now can be done?
Three options occur. First and easiest, we can keep hammering away at one another. I can keep bluntly insisting on my rectitude and he can keep turning the debate into a personal attack. This could continue endlessly, tit for tat, and never find resolution, even if it brings a certain satisfaction. The problem is that this approach ensures we'll be both stay mired in hard feelings and negative emotions. Sooner or later, these will surely bleed into other areas of our lives.
There are alternatives.
The first is that I can change my tone in our communication. Perhaps make a light hearted joke at my own expense, outright apologize, or otherwise be conciliatory. No matter how "right" I am, I can choose to be the bigger person. Often, once we're willing to make a positive step, the other party will get the message and reciprocate in some fashion. In turn, I can make yet another positive gesture, assuring this person that the first kindness wasn't a one-off fluke but a solid change in direction. From there, we might well proceed towards putting the conflict behind us.
This doesn't always work. Sometimes it's simply too late. The other person is too worked up, too trapped in their ego, to ensconced in their worldview. Nothing we do or say, no matter how positive or conciliatory, gets through. In this case, we needn't return to war. We always have the choice of simply walking away. Not every situation must be resolved in a textbook fashion. Occasionally, there is no middle ground, no opportunity for compromise -- emotional or otherwise.
In these instances, we can choose to disengage from such people and situations. Simply walk away, literally or metaphorically. But when we do so, we must do it properly: not by silently storing and nursing grudges sure to erupt at some future time but by truly and completely letting it go. We must fully release it from our consciousness, not giving it another (negative) thought. Life is too short, precious, and beautiful to waste in petty grudge matches. Unnecessary conflict slowly eats away at us, robbing us of inner peace and joy. No matter how right we are, we still lose.
We always have a choice though in the heat of the moment, we often forget. The next time you find yourself in a conflict, see if you can become aware of what's happening, both in yourself and in the other person. Make a conscious effort to find a positive resolution, whether for the both of you, or just yourself. You'll be amazed at the inner results.