My best PsychCentral article in 2013 was 10 Tips for Resolving Conflict. It inspired me to create the following YouTube video:
Click image to watch video!
The fantastic responses and suggestions from my readers and viewers prompted me to share with you the following additional ten tips for conflict resolution:
1) Don’t react. While this is not easy to do because we are biologically primed to fight or flee, sometimes not reacting is incredibly effective. It takes two to play tug-of-war and if you refuse to engage, there is no game to be played. An intentional pause serves as a mirror for the antagonizer, as their aggressive words reverberate in the silence and seem to hang in the air, hopefully inspiring reflection and awareness. If you refuse to sink to the same level, you can be the bigger person and anchor the conflict in a more civil place before it spirals downward. This requires strength, patience, groundedness and detachment from ego (for it is the ego that gets hooked during conflict and feels compelled to fight until proven the victor.) Pause, count to ten, breathe deeply and see what happens from there.
2) Respond from a place of sadness, rather than anger. When we are angry, it is to protect our feelings of sadness. When we speak from our anger, we can scare people, make them defensive, and can negatively impact our relationships. When we speak from our hurt, we are sharing from a deeper and more vulnerable place of truth, and are not as threatening to others. If we teach others how to care for our wounds, rather than biting them back, we can expedite the healing process.
3) Do not triangulate. Triangulation is when you involve a third person in your conflict with another person. For example, speaking to your mother-in-law about your agitation at your wife. Or, throwing your BFF under the bus when you are mad at your boyfriend by saying she thinks he is a selfish ass as well. While it is very tempting to vent to others or to use them as allies, none of this is useful. Triangulation is counterproductive as it causes additional relational strain with others and takes the focus away from the primary issue at hand. Furthermore, it simply isn’t cool.
4) Understand conflict is neither bad, wrong nor a sign of failure. We are human: we all regress and act like babies sometime. Cut yourself some slack, don’t be afraid of your mistakes, make amends and forgive yourself and others. Chalk it up to growth and learning and forge ahead.
5) Before speaking, ask yourself, “Is it kind? Is it necessary? Is it true?” Take some advice from Shirdi Sai Baba and ask yourself these three questions before tossing verbal (or written) grenades. If the answer to even one of these questions is no, bite your lip and choose words that meet all of these criteria. The conflict will diffuse and your relationship will deepen.
6) Be specific about what you need. Sometimes we want people to magically know what we need in order to feel better. This is normal, yet irrational. Speed things along by being direct and specific for what you need (i.e. “I need for you to say you are sorry for calling me that name” or “I need for you to give me the rest of the weekend alone to reflect” or “I need for you to hold me and stop trying to make it better with words.”)
7) Be willing to let go and “reboot.” My colleague, Ross Rosenberg, recommends a mental rebooting when at the point of stalemate in conflict resolution. This involves letting go of any mental energy that is keeping you fixated on the conflict. In a moment of quiet reflection, imagine you are dropping your sword and hitting the “refresh” button on your psychological browser, and revisit your relationship with renewed perspective and energy.
8) Be grateful for the wisdom the conflict brought you. Conflict can be emotionally exhausting and it is easy to be annoyed that it even took place. Look at the good part by reflecting on any lessons that could be learned about yourself, the other party, the relationship, or life in general. Give thanks for this wisdom so that the universe knows you have sufficiently learned this lesson and it isn’t presented for you again!
9) Enjoy the intimacy in making up and reconnecting. Conflict is like fire: while it can be destructive if left untended, it can promote warmth and heat if managed effectively. Resolving conflict promotes intimacy (the term, “make-up sex” didn’t come from nowhere…) Also, there is great reassurance knowing that loved ones can “stand a little shaky ground” and has “got the guts to stick around” (thank you, Bonnie Raitt.)
10) Understand nobody is perfect and learning effective conflict resolution is a life-long process. Working on conflict resolution is an indication of maturity, integrity and character. We are all works in progress. Commit to these conflict resolution strategies in order to improve your relationships and become your best self.
Do you have any more suggestions for effective conflict resolution? Please share your thoughts in a comment.
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Last reviewed: 5 Jan 2014