Have you ever experienced a tense situation with someone and after you walked away, you wish you’d responded differently? Or maybe you didn’t know how to respond at all? The truth is, most of us are terrified of conflict. We’ll do whatever we can to avoid it. Our best avoidance strategies include ignoring phone calls, emails, or text messages, and even telling lies to avoid an uncomfortable confrontation (example: “Sorry mom, but we can’t make the family reunion this weekend. John has to work.).
Here are some tips to consider when dealing with a conflict:
1. Ask yourself if it matters.
Is this conflict worth fighting for? Will this disagreement matter six months from now? I hate to be cliché, but the phrase “pick your battles” applies here. Are you at risk of damaging an important relationship over something of little consequence? Weigh the risks and the benefits. If you decide it’s worth pursuing, then proceed carefully.
2. Stay calm, when you conflict on.
Keeping a cool head is important in order to stay in control of your emotions. It’s easy to lose our cool when we feel threatened or disrespected, but keeping your feelings in check will show you have it together. The goal here is to take emotion OUT of the conflict and stick to the facts. No yelling or tantruming allowed. When you get out of control, people stop listening to what you have to say, and instead, focus on how you are saying it.
3. Show respect and be respectful.
By showing respect for your opponent, you actually earn respect in the process. Phrases like “I can understand why you’ve had this opinion…” or “I know it worked for you in the past…” can go a long way toward telling the other person you “get” where he or she is coming from. Maintaining civility can ensure your perspective gets heard. This step is also where the fine art of listening comes in. Remember – it takes two people to have a disagreement, so you are not the only one who deserves talk time. Take the time to actually listen to the other person’s point of view. Even if you still don’t agree, you show that you value the relationship, if not the viewpoint, of the person talking.
4. Be open to compromise.
While we all love to get our own way, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Enter the big “C” for Compromise. It’s not a bad word folks. In fact, it may be the most loving, generous word a conflict could ask for. Often, getting some of what we want is better than not getting anything at all. Even if I couldn’t have the whole pie, I know I’d still appreciate a slice. Ask yourself if the situation could be better managed by giving a little. Giving in on certain points doesn’t make you weak – in fact, it might just make you a pro at handling conflict! Compromise is the best way to avoid hard feelings or damaged relationships. Value compromise.
5. Don’t get too tied to the outcome.
You might be thinking, “Well, what’s the point of stating my case if I don’t care about how it ends?! I didn’t say don’t care – I’m saying to not get too emotional over how it all turns out. On one hand, if you “win” then someone else has to “lose.” And that may not feel as good as you think. Also recognize that some arguments will never be won. It’s rare to convert someone to your political, religious, or parenting ideology. It amazes me that people still try.
I do want you to speak up if you feel it is important to do so. The worst thing we can do is carry around unspoken thoughts and feelings if they are hurting us by holding on to them. Simply stating how we feel to someone can often be enough to rid us of toxic feelings. Getting things “off our chest” contributes to healthier, happier lives.
Accept that we all have our own value system and personality characteristics that make us the unique people that we are. Differences will lead to conflict, so conflict is here to stay. But how we deal with it will determine our success in life. As the saying goes, people won’t always remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.