Have you ever been so angry at someone you said something you instantly regretted? There are more constructive ways to communicate during a conflict that can effectively turn the situation around. Keep some of these tips in mind next time you’re facing a disagreement.
How does conflict start?
Everyone has a need to feel understood, supported and safe. Conflict often arises when people perceive a threat to having these needs met. A natural response is to get angry at the person you feel is somehow threatening you.
For example, your partner could give you a gift you didn’t want. You might get angry because you feel they don’t understand you. But in fact they gave you the gift to show their affection and are hurt that you don’t like it.
A situation like this doesn’t have to become a heated argument. When people can communicate honestly and openly, a conflict can usually be settled with a positive outcome for everyone involved.
Proactive Steps to Resolve Conflict
1. Time it Right – If you have a past dispute that still needs to be resolved, make sure to find an appropriate time to bring it up. Choosing the right moment could mean the difference between a helpful discussion or a nasty blow-up. Avoid approaching the person if they’re obviously busy or have somewhere to go. You could ask them to schedule a time to talk about it with you. It’s best to meet in person, but if you need to phone someone, always start out by asking if it’s a good time to talk.
2. Speak to the Source – You might find it easy to tell friends and family members all about someone you have an issue with. But it can be more difficult to speak to the person themselves. You don’t know how they’ll react and it could be scary making the first move. But ignoring a serious issue could be even worse in the long run. If you’re hesitant to face them alone, you can suggest a counselor or trusted friend join your discussion with them to help bridge the gap.
3. Stay on Topic – No matter how heated a discussion may get, always stay focused on the issue you want to resolve. Whenever you mention any facts about the situation, keep them objective and only refer to what really happened. Resist any temptation to bring up historical patterns you feel someone has, or what they said to you ten years ago. Clearly, this would not help the situation.
4. Really Listen – It can be easy to get lost in your own point of view and become blind to any other input. Take a step back and focus on the other person for a moment. Ask them why they’re upset or how they’re feeling. Then take the time to listen to what they have to say. Don’t interrupt while they’re speaking and ask for clarification afterwards if you didn’t understand anything they said. This lets them know you care and are truly listening.
5. Take Responsibility for Yourself – No one is innocent in a conflict. Own up to your part of what happened. Also remain aware of your own feelings and reactions. Are you upset about what someone said because it stirred up some painful memories completely unrelated to the situation? This is not the other person’s fault. That might be a good time to take a break from the discussion and sort out your own feelings before you react unfairly.
6. Start Your Sentences with “I” – It’s always helpful to express your thoughts and feelings about what’s going on. For instance, “I was hurt when you said I’m lazy because I value your opinion of me.” But keep it about yourself. Don’t cross the line and start pointing fingers or blaming others for what happened. Also, make sure you’re expressing your true emotions, not just saying you’re angry. Typically, anger comes from feeling hurt, scared or sad about a situation. Try digging a little deeper to find out what’s at the bottom of your anger.
7. Seek Understanding – Remember that the other person is also upset because their needs are being threatened. Ask them to clearly express what they really want or need. What did you do to cause their frustration? A common cause of misunderstanding is making assumptions about how the other person is feeling. Don’t ever assume. Keep asking questions until you really know what’s on their mind.
8. Use Humor When Appropriate – Sometimes the best way to defuse a confrontation is to lighten it up a bit. Obviously, this needs to be approached with sensitivity. Many times humor would only make matters worse. But if it’s a fairly small issue, you could ask the other person, “Doesn’t it seem silly we’re even arguing about this?” Or if you can tell the other person is open to it, you could try a playful shoulder punch or other goofy gesture. Just make sure the playfulness is mutual and there are no lingering bad feelings.
9. Look for Compromise – Try to find common ground with the person you’re in conflict with. Your goal should not be to “win” the argument. What resolution would be good for both of you? Stay focused on resolving the conflict in a positive way rather than being right. And remember it’s always an option to agree to disagree. Some arguments aren’t worth a prolonged effort and it can be fine to simply let go of what’s not important and move on with a fresh start.