Conflict or disagreement is a part of life and something everyone experiences. Yet, we all respond to and resolve conflict in our own unique way.
We often learn conflict management skills from observing others, most commonly our parents and family. But, families are not always the best role models for managing or resolving conflict. Sometimes we adopt their communication skills without realising there’s more than one way to resolve a disagreement.
Many people respond to conflict in one of two ways. Either giving others' needs priority over their own. Or by becoming angry or aggressive, giving their own needs priority over those of others. Both of these approaches result in an imbalance in whose needs are being met within the relationship.
To create more of a balance in the discussion and to help resolve the conflict, taking an assertive approach can be helpful. This doesn’t mean you ‘control’ the discussion. Rather, you communicate your thoughts, emotions and needs in an open and honest way and allow the other person to do the same. You negotiate the needs of both parties.
Some strategies to help manage and resolve conflict include:
Making time for discussion
It can be helpful to make time to discuss the issue. This gives you sufficient time to discuss the subject, ensures you are not rushing, and allows you to discuss the matter in full. Starting a discussion when you know there is going to be an interruption does not help in resolving the issue.
Only talk when calm
Both people need to be in a calm state of mind to allow for a safe space where issues can be explored thoughtfully, without judgement being clouded by emotions.
Use assertive communication
Assertive communication includes aspects of communication such as speaking in a firm and relaxed tone, using ‘I’ statements such as “I feel….when…” and using open body language. This includes actively listening to the other person and allowing them space to clearly communicate their feelings, thoughts, needs, expectations, values and priorities. Even if you don’t like or agree with what is being said.
Be specific about the issue
It can be common when experiencing conflict to bring other unrelated issues to the table. This is often referred to as the ‘kitchen sink’ argument, where every issue is brought up in the one discussion. This does not allow for constructive resolution of the issues and is often perceived as an attack. Therefore it’s important to be clear about the issue that needs to be discussed and only discuss that issue. If other issues need to be addressed, make another time to discuss them.
Address issues as they arise
Don’t wait for things to pile up or until you get to a place emotionally where you cant effectively handle the issue. Address them as they arise. This will prevent things getting to a point where they are more difficult to act on.
Manage your expectations
Expectations can be a difficult thing. Sometimes we don’t communicate our expectations clearly, or even at all, or our expectation may be beyond what another person can give/provide. Discussing your expectations with the other person is important, as it allows both parties to explain their needs. It also allows you to set realistic expectations should your expectations be unachievable.
Know when to take a break
If you or the other person becomes overwhelmed with emotion, if the discussion becomes circular, or if no progress is being made it may be good to take a break. Agree to leave the conversation where it is and come back to it another time. This allows you both to think about the issue and reconvene at a later time to work out your next steps.
Understand your goal
The goal of resolving conflict is to strengthen the relationship, not to ‘win’ the argument or to be hurtful to the other person. Have this in mind when discussing matters of conflict.
Be willing to compromise
Compromise is important in any relationship. It requires both parties to negotiate, problem solve and come to an arrangement where both of your needs are met. One person having their needs met at a cost to the other person is not a balanced outcome.
Nobody’s perfect. So it’s worth thinking about your style of conflict resolution and being mindful of ways you can do it differently.
Helpful resources . . .
- Centre for Clinical Interventions 'Assert Yourself' modules.
- Mental Illness Fellowship Australia 'Effective Communication' factsheet.