Wherever two humans exist in a sustained relationship, whether in a workplace or a home setting, conflict at some level will almost certainly happen from time to time. That’s because of our unique differences in values, expectations, opinions, beliefs and needs. Therefore learning how to avoid relationship conflict matters.
How we respond to conflict is especially what counts. The choices we make in times of interpersonal fights are important. Poor choices can impact mental wellness, tear people apart, and wreak havoc on family life. In organisations, it can lead to low morale, high absenteeism and lost production.
Making better choices when handling conflict can be a bridge to improved shared understanding, foster healthier interpersonal relationships, reduce anxiety and stress, deepen friendships and boost your happiness level.
Learning to master the way we manage conflict therefore has many positive benefits. But it does takes courage, commitment and practice, to create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation.
A good starting place, is preparedness to shoulder responsibility for our own attitudes and actions. Only then is it easier to take off our mask and be real. There has to be a willingness to understand the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others. That’s what it takes if we wish to put ourselves on a healthier path of reduced relationship conflict.
Surely it is a good thing to want to feel good and get along with the people closest to us? So, becoming skilled in conflict resolution strategies is important to prioritise because it strengthens social connections, and is self-care for our mental wellbeing. Here are 7 TIPS to help you on that journey…
- Avoid using absolutes such as ‘Always’ and ‘Never’: The moment you express either of these words, there’ll be a rifling through the files of the subconscious mind of the person you’ve directed them at. Very quickly, ‘exceptions’ will come to their conscious mind. Instantly, it breeds resistance and resentment and inflames conflict. Instead, be specific about facts, and consider a softer alternative word, for example, like ‘often’ in place of ‘always’ if it is truly applicable. Use of ‘always’ and ‘never’ in interpersonal quarrels is usually tied to blame-shaming comments which need to be avoided.
- ‘I’ before ‘You’: When you’re upset with another person, using the word ‘You’, also directs accusatory blame at the other person amplifying negativity. Instead, use the word ‘I’, and bring it back to conveying how you specifically feel, and refer to the actual behaviour or situation. For example… “when the party went late last night, I felt annoyed because I did not get enough sleep before having to go to work”.
- ‘Silence’ is still communication: Staying silent to convey dissatisfaction or simply to avoid rocking the boat will only serve to suppress conflict. So the matter simmers for a time, only to then boil over later down the track, leading to greater hurt. Alternatively, be courageous, and learn to speak up assertively (not aggressively), and talk objectively about your feelings and what it is that’s troubling you.
- Speak ‘calmly’: Being confrontational by shouting angrily is emotively destructive behaviour. There is potential for harm to your health. For example, by elevating stress levels. Shouting angrily at someone is akin to grabbing a dog by its ears. Take time to first cool off, perhaps go for a walk, and when ready to speak, do so in a calm and evenly toned way.
- Be ‘respectful’: Consider the other person’s point of view. Seek to understand their concern and perspective. If you don’t like what your hearing, avoid lashing out with why you are in disagreement. We cannot fully know what is going on in the mind of another person. So, intently listen to the other person respectfully. Then ask for elaboration for clarity to avoid any misinterpretation. True listening essentially means ‘wanting to hear’. When you show others respect, even if, in the heat of the moment, that feels hard to do, you will ultimately improve the likelihood of that respect being reciprocated.
- Stay focused and on-track: When caught up in a confrontation, keep yourself from adding fuel. Aim to be the cooling water that quenches the fire. Keep on topic. Keep yourself from dredging up of events of the past. Focus solely on the current core matter.
- Ask quality questions: Learn to be objective and not personal. It can be easy to fall into the trap of pointing out another person’s flaws and faults. The goal is finding a resolution, not fighting. Consider using engaging questions to understand the heart of an issue and its impact from the other person’s perspective. Ask curious questions, in a sincere and genuinely conversational way. For example… ‘what were you hoping for, by doing it that way?’; or, ‘why were you feeling it necessary to go in that particular direction?’; or, ‘when would be a good time to sit and chat about what’s bothering you?’.
For best results, be consistent in applying these strategies. Virtually everyone finds themselves having to deal with challenging relationships from time to time. But we have to be committed to learning skills to improve the way we handle conflict resolution. With persistent practice you’ll master those skills and can then reap the reward of less quarrelling while fostering greater cooperation with those closest to you.
Should you find yourself caught up in a regular cycle of interpersonal conflict that is impacting your everyday life and causing you distress, then consider reaching out to a professional therapist. A trained counsellor who specialises in relationships can provide an impartial, non-judgemental perspective, and give you the strategies and support to help you achieve the relationship goals that are important to you.
Learn More about the benefits of counselling help for relationships.
ROHAN WATSON is a member of the Australian Counselling Association and a general member of the International Association of Applied Neuroscience. He holds qualifications in Psychology, Counselling and Education from Monash University and USQ. As a Psychotherapist, Counsellor and Mental Health Researcher, Rohan is dedicated to helping unlock the potential in people to live life happily and more purposefully.
Rohan provides specialist counselling and wellbeing coaching services to people from all walks and seasons of life by phone, video or face-to-face. He has facilitated and delivered mental health programs across rural and remote Australia and provides professional psychotherapy services to employees at all levels nationally through EAP based services. Rohan has a special interest in the online delivery of mental wellness programs and his current research is focusing on early intervention mental wellbeing in the workplaces of Australian SMEs. Learn more.