Handling conflict with confidence
A closer look at some tools to use for better communication during an argument or disagreement
Why do people argue?
It is normal to argue or disagree with people. Everyone experiences some conflict in their life. Conflict can occur between friends, family and couples. It can also occur between you and your teachers, co-workers or even someone you barely know.
Disagreements or conflicts with people you see regularly, or those you are closest to, can turn into an uncomfortable and stressful experience. Resolving this kind of conflict or disagreement isn’t always an easy thing to do. Conflict or disagreements with people you know can arise for any number of reasons.
Here are a few:
You may be having trouble understanding someone else’s perspective on an issue
You might feel that your point of view or perspective isn’t being heard or considered
You may have different beliefs and values than someone else
Your needs may conflict with someone else’s needs
You may not be happy about how someone is treating you
You may be feeling stressed, anxious or angry about something and need to address it with another person
How to resolve your differences
Approach them in person. If it’s at all possible, try to meet with the person so you’re face to face. If you’re unable to meet in person, avoid having this difficult conversation over text. It’s hard to understand what either of you mean when you can’t hear it in their voice and things can easily be taken the wrong way. Phone calls are a much better option if you’re speaking long distance.
Be mindful. Talking to the person about your disagreement can be helpful as long as it is done in a mutually respectful manner and is most effective when both parties can talk calmly. Make sure it is done in a constructive way by thinking about the points you want to express. How you discuss your differences will be very important to come to a conclusion that all parties will feel happy about. It can be easy to get back into an argument while you are trying to resolve it, and that’s okay. It might just mean you have more work to do in addressing all facets of the issue, so that everyone’s needs are being met.
Allocate time to talk. It’s not a good idea to spring the discussion on the other person, unless you’re in the right time and place. Tell them calmly that you want to talk to them about the disagreement at a time when you can both be present with each other.
Gain an understanding of each other’s perspective. To help understand why the disagreement started, it may help to ask questions about their point of view. It is important to make sure that when you are listening to the other person’s perspective; you are actually listening and not adding your opinion or thinking of a response. You will have the opportunity to tell your side or give your opinions. When it is your turn, nicely remind the other person that you gave them the space and time to tell their side of it and it is now your time. You both might even prefer to write down your point of view so you both can read it and think about what the other has said. Then you can come together and discuss the disagreement knowing where each of you stand. Remember, there is a possibility that the other person might not want to talk about it. Writing down your point of view and how you feel might be helpful to you, but you have to prepared that the other person might not want to discuss the conflict with you or may take what you said wrong because they couldn’t hear how you meant for things to come across.
Explain how you feel. When you talk to the person, tell them how you feel. Your feelings are different from your perspective or point of view. Using “I feel ____ when you ___” helps keep the conversation open without blaming the other person. Everyone has a right to their feelings. You can try to explain how you feel as a result of their opinion, e.g. “I felt that you wouldn’t hear me out” or “It felt like you were judging me”. Try not to blame them or make statements about their perception of the problem. This should be about how you felt. Give them the opportunity to tell you how they felt too. Being in touch with each other’s feelings can make both parties more empathetic of the other’s experience.
Use a mediator. You may need someone else to help you resolve the disagreement. Asking another person to act as a mediator can help you both get another perspective on the disagreement. It is important that this person is neutral in both of your eyes (e.g. having your boyfriend mediate a conflict with your best friend might not be the best option). Anyone can act as a mediator including friends, a counselor, a supervisor or a psychologist.
Conflict with someone at work or at school. If you have a disagreement with someone you work with and you feel that you cannot resolve your differences together, you might need to contact your human resources department for the procedures to resolve the issue. They may tell you to discuss the matter with your supervisor or they may handle the conflict. Each employer is different on how they handle conflicts for employees. If you have a conflict with someone at school who may have a higher status than you (e.g. a professor, school administrator or teaching assistant), there are usually counselors or ombudsman that can help you resolve these conflicts.
Agree to disagree. Resolving a conflict should not be seen as a contest to see who won or who was right or wrong. Even after taking steps to resolve a conflict, you might not still be able to agree. If the person you are in this conflict with is an important person to you and their relationship with you is one you want to keep, it is okay to agree to disagree on this issue.
What if the disagreement turns into a yelling match?
If the argument is becoming too heated, it may be best to put a pause on the discussion. Tell them you need a little space to collect your thoughts and leave the room for a while. Take a walk and allow yourself to process what just happened. When you are both level headed again, re-enter the conversation. It can be easy to say things you didn’t mean if you don’t allow yourself the space to cool down.
Although not every argument or disagreement will lead to the extinction of a relationship, there are times when it does. If neither of you can come to an agreement, and the issue is extremely important to one or both of you, it may be good to take a break from each other. There are some issues that cannot be resolved, and that’s okay. It’s all a part of this process we call life.
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com