Do you ever find yourself asking, “How do you handle conflicts?” Also, does struggling with how to handle conflict cause a lot of stress, worry, and anxiety in your life? If so, it may feel like your stomach is in knots or that you can’t stop ruminating when things are tense between you and someone you know.
That someone could be a child, parent, partner, friend, boss, or co-worker. You may experience feelings of bewilderment, anger, sadness, or even hopelessness when your relationships don’t seem to be going well.
Conflicts can quickly grow without implementing some proven strategies, causing untold damage to your significant-other relationship, family, friendships, and career.
How do you get through and succeed even when those rough patches between you and others show up? Here are some thoughts on how to do deal with conflict better.
Remember Some Conflict is Unavoidable
In his “Psychology Today” article entitled 3 Keys to Resolving Conflict, Jim Taylor Ph.D. shares the following:
“Whether with a spouse, parent, child, sibling, family member, friend, or co-worker, conflicts are a natural and inevitable part of the human condition.”
How do you deal with conflicts? First, keep in mind that conflict is a given in life. We too often act shocked when disagreements arise, but they are guaranteed. Indeed, we shouldn’t go out looking for conflict because plenty of it comes looking for us without us trying!
At the same time, it’s wise to expect some conflict so that you’re not thrown off guard when it happens. Also, know that it’s pretty normal to feel like you don’t know how to handle differences of opinion at times.
Conflict management is often something we don’t adequately learn at school or home while growing up. So, we may enter the world of adults feeling clueless about how to keep the peace. We tend to revert to the same sometimes ineffective coping strategies that eventually became a habit earlier in life.
Thankfully, conflict resolution is a learned skill. You don’t have to be naturally likable or possess unique charisma to accomplish this. You just need to develop some solid conflict resolution tools. Doing so will help you learn how to handle conflict at work and in all other life areas.
Practice the Power of Calmness
The first instinctual reaction to finding yourself in a disagreement is to defend or protect yourself. And while protecting yourself, you may be tempted to blame or accuse the other person in the controversy too.
No one had to teach this to us. It’s just that survival instinct coming out which can be a valuable thing in the right circumstances. However, this instinct tends to cause more harm than good during the typical disagreement.
During a difference of opinion, we tend to play off of each other. Picture you and your “opponent” both having a little spark on your side of the argument. You’re not happy with their spark and you show it by pouring some gasoline on it. They, in turn, pour some gas on your spark. On and on this goes until you both have a blazing fire going and people start getting hurt.
Well, what happens when you don’t give the disagreement “fuel”? First, the argument tends not to build. Now, some may find it highly irritating that you don’t get ruffled and increase the conflict as a result, but that’s not the typical response. Instead, you’ll generally de-escalate a conflict by staying calm. Keeping calm may seem like the weak thing to do, but it takes far more strength than becoming upset.
This means you may take deep breaths and lower your voice instead of raising it. Or, if you feel that your words will only make matters worse, you don’t need to say anything. Your deep breaths combine with a relaxed and non-threatening posture and body language. You are your own person and they are theirs. You don’t have to give up your calm because of someone else’s actions. You can also try intentionally relaxing your body during these times.
This isn’t a magical solution. It takes practice to stay calm when disagreements happen. Keeping inner peace is something you have to practice beforehand. And when you fail, you can always go back to the drawing board and do better next time. But once you discover the tremendous power of calmness during disagreements, you won’t ever want to go back.
Keep An Open Mind and Practice Empathy
We all operate on a bias often without realizing it. We are conditioned to believe our point of view, ideas, and opinions above all others. This isn’t because we’re all raging egomaniacs. Instead, it’s because, based on all our life experiences leading up to this point, our point of view seems the most reasonable and rational.
Then, someone challenges those views, and immediately, our first instinctual thought might be, “Well, of course, I’m 100 percent right and they’re 100 percent wrong—period.”
We need to learn to challenge this bias when in conflict, as uncomfortable and unnatural as that may feel. The first step is humbly recognizing this bias even if we often don’t consciously think about it. The second step is to keep an open mind and strongly entertain the idea that the other person might at least be partly right.
And if you find the other person is at least partly right, tell them this. Nothing can diffuse a tense moment faster than validating the other person’s thoughts.
Also, keep empathy close at hand. Your “opponent” isn’t a ruthless fire-breathing dragon. They’re a human being with worries, stressors, and struggles just like everyone else out there. Do your best to see things from their perspective. Also, treat them with compassion—the same way you’d hope to be treated, even if they don’t return the favor.
Reason When You Can
By not getting angry and staying calm, you’ll be able to start reasoning with the person you’re in conflict with. In contrast, if you both keep getting angrier, the chances of being able to reason at all will become extremely limited. One of the most critical aspects of how to handle disagreements is keeping your emotions in check.
You may decide that the issue isn’t significant enough to risk relational upheaval. In that case, you can drop it. If you stay calm, you also may be able to hold a problem-solving discussion. However, if you feel that’s impossible, it could be wise to revisit later when things aren’t emotionally charged.
Remember the Ultimate Goal of Conflict: Even Stronger Relationships
Have you ever experienced this seeming paradox after a conflict happened? You and someone else had a disagreement and things seemed bad or at least unpleasant for a while. However, you managed to work through your differences, and your mutual respect and overall ability to get along increased.
This result isn’t too uncommon, whether it involves a significant-other relationship, friendship, family member, or co-worker. Think of the bone that breaks but heals back even stronger than it was before. That is often the reward of working through differences with others. Ironically, it often leads to a greater understanding of each other and more meaningful future interactions.
It can be healthy to visualize this end result and make your goal to better understand each other. That is the most meaningful, purposeful and helpful, and beautiful outcome of not agreeing about something.
Is this outcome always possible? No. But many times, it is. Regarding how to deal with conflict at work and other primary interactions, this outcome is all the more vital.
You May Have to Step Away (At Least for a While)
Unfortunately, not all conflicts resolve like we hoped they would. Have you consistently tried your best to handle conflict with someone, but it’s negatively affected your physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing for a while now? If so, there does come a time you may need to step away—at least for a while. You may need some time away from the strife to determine your next best steps.
It may be a short-lived break or something longer. Others may try to offer insights into what this should look like, but ultimately only you can determine what is best for you. Even for the most mentally strong individuals, ongoing conflict can only be handled for so long.
How Do You Handle Conflicts? Counseling Can Help
Learning to practice better conflict resolution skills is a beneficial strategy, whether you want to know how to handle conflict in the workplace or you’re wondering, “How do I handle conflict better in general.”
At the same time, developing these skills takes time and this journey generally involves others helping along the way. For that reason, seeing a skilled counselor can help you discover significant breakthroughs in getting along better with others.
If you’d like to see how seeing a professional therapist can help you deal with conflict better, please get in touch with the Orange County Relationship Center. You are also welcome to schedule an appointment with us at your convenience.