Extension News

In Times of Stress, Manage Conflict, Don’t Blame — and Call Iowa Concern

11/16/2009

AMES, Iowa -- Iowans are facing serious changes and decisions because of economic uncertainty, loss and illness. Combined with everyday hassles and discomfort, these demands can lead to increased conflict and misplaced blame, said Margaret Van Ginkel, coordinator of Iowa State University Extension’s Iowa Concern Hotline.

“We didn’t just have a perfect storm; we had a perfect tornado,” Van Ginkel remarked. Iowans are reeling from last year’s floods, this summer’s hail and too much rain this fall, as well as job losses, lowered income and H1N1.

Blaming is a natural response when conflict, anxiety and worry build up. People feel a lack of control and often look for someone else to be responsible. But blame pushes people apart instead of encouraging mutual support.

“Instead of blaming each other, we need to reach out to other people and accept their support,” Van Ginkel said. “Underneath the blaming are a lot of feelings that are harder to recognize, like disappointment, fear, sadness or fatigue. If we stop to think about those feelings in ourselves or in others, then we don’t have to feel like we are at fault or that we need to blame someone else.”

People, even in the same family, react to stress in different ways, Van Ginkel continued. Some people want to talk, while others may become pessimistic and withdrawn. Experience from tough times in the past gives people differing resources to cope with the current stress they face. But differences in stress reactions also can fuel misunderstandings, resentments and disagreements.

However, conflict can be a resource if used to help reach solutions, Van Ginkel said. To keep conflict positive, follow these rules.

  • Recognize your own and others’ emotions.
  • Accept responsibility to ask for what you need.
  • Recognize the other person’s right to ask for what he or she needs.
  • Don’t use labeling or name calling.
  • Don’t bring up the past.
  • Suggest a time out if emotions are high. Schedule a definite time to keep talking.
  • Ask for ideas and build on them. Don’t reject the other person’s ideas.
  • Work toward solutions that use everyone’s ideas.

ISU Extension’s Iowa Concern Hotline, (800) 447-1985 (voice) or (800) 735-2942 (TDD), is available all hours, all days, Van Ginkel said. People can call to talk about the stress they’re facing, as well as financial questions or legal issues.

For more information on dealing with stress and economic uncertainty, Iowans may contact their ISU Extension county office or visit ISU Extension’s Managing Tough Times Web site, www.extension.iastate.edu/answers.

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Contacts :
Margaret Van Ginkel, Iowa Concern Hotline, (515) 727-0656, vangin@iastate.edu
Laura Sternweis, Extension Communications and External Relations, (515) 294-0775, lsternwe@iastate.edu