Conflict is a normal part of any healthy relationship, conflicts routinely appear in relationships with friends, family members, romantic partners or co-workers. If you are like me, you are probably aversed to conflict and perhaps even go out of your way to avoid them, but of course, avoidance is not an effective strategy, if anything it makes things worse.
Conflict resolution is the process by which two or more parties engaged in a disagreement or dispute reach a peaceful solution to resolving it. The right way to approach any conflict is not to avoid it or blame someone else for it but to learn how to resolve it in a proactive and healthy way. When conflict is handled properly, it can strengthen the bond between the parties involved and keep your relationships strong and healthy which I’m sure is the desired outcome.
Conflict is not by nature good or bad. It simply means a difference of opinion or interests. As a business owner, I have had to be forced to deal with conflicts at work (staff, clients and suppliers) and in my everyday life (friends, family, and my partner), so here are some pro-tips for effectively dealing with conflict.
Causes of conflict
Differing expectations: Conflict arises when there is a disparity between what is expected from another party and the actual circumstances. For example, clashes can arise when your standards for someone else’s behavior doesn’t match their actual behavior. If you do not resolve the conflict between your expectations and reality, you’ll end up expending time and energy anguishing about it.
Poor communication: A breakdown in communications can quickly lead to conflict, anytime one party misunderstands or misconstrues the words or actions of another, it has the potential to create disharmony. Communication relies on clear and complete messages being sent as well as being received.
Differences in value: This can be caused by perceived or actual incompatible belief systems. Values are beliefs that people use to give meaning to their lives, values explain what is “good” or “bad”, “right” or “wrong”, “fair” or “unfair” and disputes arise when people attempt to force their set of values on another or lay claim to exclusive value systems that do not allow for divergent beliefs.
How should you respond to conflict?
If your perception of conflict comes from painful memories from early childhood or previous unhealthy relationships, you may expect all disagreements to end badly. If your early life experiences left you feeling powerless or out of control, conflict may even be traumatizing for you becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy where you enter a conflict situation already feeling threatened.
Conflict is difficult because it triggers your acute stress response, and you typically react with a “fight” or “flight” impulse. If you tend to be aggressive, you will likely respond to conflict with “fight”. If you are not aggressive, your response will be “flight”. Either reaction bypasses your rational mind and makes it difficult to act logically and resolve the conflict.
The first step to successfully responding to conflict is to start with your emotional awareness. This is a cognitive process that helps you recognize your emotions and the possible part it’s playing in the conflict. This means tapping into your emotional intelligence to try and objectively discern which emotions you are feeling and why.
Self-awareness will help you to realize the links between your feelings and what you think, do and say, it is a focusing ability that helps you know the internal meters and subtle signals that tells you what you are feeling and using them as an ongoing guide to your responses to conflict.
The more in-tuned you are with your emotions, the more control you will have.
For example, when I get cut off by another driver in traffic, my first emotion impulse is typically anger (I really do not like to be cut off!), however, I try to take a deep breath and tap into my emotional awareness skills which helps me to quickly identify how I am feeling. Once I am able to identify the emotion, I quickly understand that it is unnecessary to act on my anger in this particular situation since it will make me an unsafe driver and a danger to other road users.
Tips for improving your emotional awareness:
- Look at yourself objectively: Looking at your actions objectively is important, this will help you realize when you are wrong and need to apologize. It also helps you to accept constructive criticism and feedback and be open to new points of view.
- Keep a journal: Journaling is a great way to connect with your emotions and feelings. Recording your thoughts on paper helps to relieve your mind of disruptive emotions and clears it up to make space for new information and thought patterns.
- Practice meditation and other mindfulness habits: Mediation helps you to improve your mindful awareness, not all meditation and mindfulness have to be formal. You can find clarity in regular moments of reflection. For example, I typically practice my mindfulness and reflection when having a shower. I try and connect with my emotions, thoughts and the sensation of the warm water on my skin.
Self-management is the ability to stay on top of and manage your reactions and behavior despite temptations or pressure. Conflict can cause tense and highly charged situations, being able to manage impulsive feelings and distressing emotions will help you navigate conflicts. Self-management will help you stay composed, positive and unflappable under duress.
Being able to demonstrate restraints when you are tempted by impulses is a foundational building block for success, integrity, and character.
Take a moment to consider your own strength with this skill. What are some impulses or temptations that you typically find yourself falling to in conflict situations? For example, I always find myself impatient with people when their views or perspectives do not align with my sets of values, my natural impulse is typically not to hear them out but to try and impose my own views on them which of course doesn’t help to resolve the conflict.
When faced with conflict, be intentional about stopping, thinking, weighing potential consequences and making a plan before speaking and acting.
Social awareness is the ability to perceive what others are feeling and thinking and picking up on the emotions of others. Being aware of how your actions impact others can allow you to make the right adjustments to tailor your communication to different individuals and groups or to apologize when needed. This sometimes is what is needed to prevent or end a conflict, this ability takes intentionality and practice.
Steps to demonstrate awareness during conflict:
- Listening/Observing: Communication is typically accompanied by many cues of tone, emotion, and choice of words. Make sure you listen to the person in front of you, without ammo-loading your next response. When you actively listen and observe their body language or tone, you will be able to better understand them.
- Validating: When the person in front of you finishes speaking, validate what you heard to make sure that you are on the same page. You don’t have to say things word for word, but give them an idea of what you captured so that they know you understand. Validation is important because people are entitled to their feelings.
- Following up: Check-in on how they are feeling about the interaction or the topic that you discussed at the end of a conversation, this will go a long way to ensuring that the other party leaves the interaction feeling like they were heard and listened to.
Relationship management combines the use of your awareness, the control of your emotions and those of others to manage interactions; this includes communicating clearly, empathizing, listening to and respecting the other party while navigating towards a solution. The following tips will help you to manage relationships and resolve arguments in a healthy way.
- Set Boundaries: Everyone deserves to be treated with respect, even during conflict. If you are being cursed at, called names or ridiculed, tell them to stop. If they do not, walk away and tell them that you don’t want to continue arguing if your boundaries are not being respected.
- Find the real issue: Try to get to the heart of the matter, sometimes conflict arises when the other party feels like they are being disrespected, not heard or some other type of emotion. For example, if your partner is angry with you because you aren’t taking out the trash, maybe they are really upset because they feel like they are doing all the work around the house.
- Agree to disagree: If you can’t resolve an issue with an aggrieved party, sometimes it’s best to drop it. You can’t agree on everything with everyone. Focus on what matters. If the issue is too important for you to drop and you can’t agree to disagree then it’s ok to respectfully part ways.
- Compromise when possible: Easy to say but hard to do, compromising is a major part of conflict resolution, try to find areas of common ground is the first step to compromising. Finding the middle ground can allow both parties to feel satisfied with the outcome.
Hi, I’m David and I coach professionals to upgrade their resume, improve their emotional intelligence and earn more money. I am a professional recruiter and work as a consultant for a world-class recruiting firm. You can learn more about me at davidowasi.com. Also, feel free to check out my Ultimate Career Guide Course on Udemy.