Tips for Handling Conflict

1. Share negative emotions only in person or on the phone. E-mails, answering machine messages and notes are too impersonal for the delicate nature of negative words. What feels like a “bomb” on paper may feel much lighter when delivered in person.

2. Include phrases such as “I understand”. This phrase, used authentically, can support your goals when the tension is high and you need to find common ground to form compromises or agreements with the other party.

3. Take notice when you feel threatened by what someone is saying to you. Resist the temptation  to defend yourself or to shut down the other person’s communication. It will take this kind of discipline to become  an open, trusting communicator.

4. Practice making requests of others when you are angry. It is often much more useful to make a request than to share your anger. For example, if someone in the house is driving you crazy by leaving dirty dishes in the sink, it is better to make a request of them than to let your anger leak out in other ways such as becoming more distant.

5. Try repeating the exact words that someone is saying to you when they are in a lot of emotional pain or when you disagree with them completely. This mirroring technique can keep both the speaker and the listener centered in a difficult conversation, especially when the attitude of the person doing the mirroring is to gain understanding of a difficult point of view.

6. Take responsibility for your feelings to avoid blaming others. Notice when “blame shifting” begins to leak into your speech. “I feel angry when you are twenty minutes late and you don’t call me” is much better than “You make me so mad by being late”.

7. Learn to listen to the 2 sides of the conflict that you are in as if you were the mediator or the counsellor. If you can listen and respond in this way you will bring peace and solutions to the conflict more quickly. Offer something like, “Tell you what, let me see if I’m understanding your concerns/frustrations/perspective. I’m hearing _____.” Check with them and course correct your understanding as needed. Once you’re clear on their perspective, ask that they do the same for you: “What did you hear me say? I’d love to see if we’re both understanding one another.”

8. Take a playful attitude towards developing the skill of emotional self-control in high conflict. You could view maintaining self-control in a tense, angry conversation as an athletic feat. You could also view developing this skill as similar to working out at the gym – the more you use your self-control muscle the bigger it will grow and the easier it will be to remain calm when tension is great.

9. Wait a few days to cool down emotionally when a situation makes you feel wild with intense feelings. As time passes, you will be able to be more objective about the issues and to sort out the truth about the situation more clearly. This needs to be offset against not confronting something though, because you are frightened; your emotions will pay a price if its stays inside.

10. Make a decision to speak with decorum whenever you are angry or frustrated. If you give yourself permission to blow up, people will not feel safe around you. They will feel that you are not predictable and will carry “shields” when they work near you.  The fear and walls of others will not support your goals for success in relationships or at work.

11. Stop and take a breath. As soon as you recognise the dynamic and realise that both of you are on the fast-track to nowhere, simply pause the conversation. Say something like, “Can we take a moment here? I’m sensing frustration on both sides and I’d like to see if we can get back on track.”

12. Take responsibility for your part. Acknowledge that you were playing an active role in creating and sustaining the dynamic. Because if you don’t, they will on your behalf! You could say, “I have to admit that I got caught up in arguing for my point of view rather than listening to really understand your perspective. Maybe we could start over and come at this in a new way.”