Conflict is inevitable in any relationship. From family dynamics to workplace environments, everyone experiences some degree of relational struggles. Avoiding conflict, or merely pretending it doesn’t exist, will only make the situation worse. In fact, how we handle that conflict largely determines the effect it has on our lives.
We benefit when we pay attention to conflict. Perhaps it’s pointing to a need for better communication or a change in how we’re doing something. Conflict is also an opportunity to learn more about others and ourselves; we can even use it to grow as an individual or organization.
Conflict Management Ideas
The following tips for managing conflict will show you how to turn a potentially negative experience into an opportunity for positive change:
Stay Calm- You may not be involved in a particular conflict, but how you react to it can have positive or negative effects. If you remain neutral, your calmness can actually help people find a solution. Otherwise an angry or frustrated reaction might add more “fuel to the fire” and escalate the conflict. How do you stay neutral?
Avoid trigger words- Stay away from exaggerative words, such as “always” and “never.” Try to stay objective and refrain from emotionally charged words and aggressive nonverbal language like crossing your arms, rolling your eyes, or pointing a finger.
Use diffusing language- Speak with “I” statements as opposed to “You” statements. This wording focuses on the specific conflict and how you’re reacting to it. For example, “I felt nervous when you didn’t return my phone call because our project is due tomorrow. I prefer that you give me updates, so I know where we stand.”
Know you might disagree- People can often see the same event but have entirely different viewpoints about what happened. You don’t have to agree about the nature or source of a problem. It’s enough to both acknowledge that the situation will continue to cause problems unless something is done.
Separate feelings from facts- When you’re really listening to a person, you can separate your feelings about the person from the facts of the actual problem. Avoid mentally labeling the person with negative traits. Instead, focus on this as a specific situation you can help solve.
Practice active listening- Hear the words and the messages the person is sharing. Try to understand the thoughts, feelings, and perspectives behind their words. When you open yourself up to active, or empathetic, listening, you can see the situation through their eyes. Repeat back what you’re hearing to confirm whether you understand them correctly.
Ask questions- When emotions run high, it can be difficult to pinpoint the exact problem. Asking good questions can help determine the nature of the problem. For example:
- What caused the conflict to occur?
- What did you or the other person want to happen?
- What are you afraid might happen? What are you afraid of losing?
- Are your emotions appropriate for the situation? Too extreme?
- How are you both invested in finding a solution?
Discuss values- Even if you don’t agree with the other person’s perspective, you can still understand the motivation behind it. Chances are you both share common values, such as respecting others or doing your best work. When you find common ground it makes the differences less intimidating.
Think outside the box- If you’re constantly arguing or hitting the same brick wall, your normal methods for solving conflict are not working. Get creative and be open to new problem solving strategies.
Be future-oriented- Avoid drudging up past grievances or staying locked on the current issue. When our time is spent trying to pin the blame on another we never move forward. Instead, if both parties work toward a solution, blame becomes less important. The goal is to not have the same issue repeating or causing the same consequences in the future.
Be clear- Many times we’ll agree on a solution but have vague ideas of what that entails. When two people leave with very different pictures of the same solution, it’s a set-up for another conflict. Instead, be sure to craft a clear solution that has measurable, specific steps toward the outcome. Individuals should understand their role to ensure everyone’s on the same page.
No unnecessary people- As a general rule of thumb, avoid bringing in additional people to the conflict. Venting about the person involved might feel good in the moment, but it will only add to the complexity. Rumors can spread easily, and gossip only escalates the problem.
Conflict can be a difficult situation in any relationship, but avoiding or reacting aggressively is never helpful. However, with the right tools, a calm perspective, and an open mind, finding a solution and maintaining the relationship is possible.
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