Managing Conflict Skilfully

Conflict is a natural part of life. However much we might hope otherwise, it’s inevitable that at times we will experience some form of conflict in our relationships – whether with family, friends, colleagues or intimate others.

Healthy relationships aren’t about avoiding conflict altogether. Relational conflicts often arise because of tensions between our needs and desires and those of other people. They reveal deep-seated issues – and can provide positive opportunities for learning, growth and greater connection when we manage them with awareness.

From minor disagreements to polarising divides, learning to navigate conflicts of all kinds is an essential skill. Of course, we may not be able to heal every conflict. Sometimes we have to learn when to let go and walk away. But the resources below can help us to better navigate all kinds of conflicts and find resolution where possible.

Be clear about your feelings

Managing conflict skilfully starts with awareness. Take time to ask yourself what’s challenging for you in a conflicting situation. What isn’t working – and what do you need? This internal awareness enables us to respond with greater intelligence to a situation, rather than reacting unconsciously to our triggers. Even if you’re in a heated moment, try to pause, breathe and become conscious of what’s happening internally. This helps to disrupt the internal stress response and calm reactivity, helping you to communicate more effectively.

Practice compassion

In any conflict, there is more than one perspective involved. Conflict isn’t easy for anyone, and each person is striving to have their needs met. Working to understand and be compassionate towards others helps us to relate with greater kindness and balance. This doesn’t mean we should discount our feelings or allow others to treat us inappropriately. It simply means that we aim to remain compassionate and conscious of each other’s humanity, even during challenging moments.

Communicate with respect

Developing healthy communication skills is key to navigating conflict. Think before you speak and aim to maintain a calm tone. Steer away from venting, blame and criticism. Try to describe the situation that’s upsetting you in language that’s free from judgement and avoids labelling others. Take responsibility for your own feelings – rather than ‘You are making me updet’, try ‘When you do X, I feel Y’. Keep it specific – stay away from ‘You always…’ and ‘You never…’ Express your needs that are unfulfilled in the situation, and follow up with specific, achievable requests – ‘Would you be willing to…?’ These communication skills enable us to relate more effectively during conflict and can help to defuse tensions and bridge divides.

Learn to listen

As part of healthy communication, listening mindfully  is one of the most important skills in any conflict. Listen to what’s said and to the feelings and needs that are being expressed, even indirectly. Paying attention to body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal cues. Practicing reflective listening – repeating back what you think the other person is saying – is a useful tool for clarifying our communication and helping people to feel heard. By truly listening to what the other person is saying, we can avoid misunderstandings and better understand the root of an issue.

Seek mutually empowering solutions

To move forwards, it’s important to prioritise resolving the conflict over being right. Once everyone has had the opportunity to air their feelings and be listened to, aim to seek solutions, rather than getting stuck in complaining or attacking. One of the keys to successfully resolving conflict is to find strategies that meet everyone’s needs. Is there a mutually empowering solution that could work for everyone? Try to find an agreement that is genuinely supportive for all, and that takes into account the different perspectives of each person involved.

Understand the art of repair

Conflicts can leave all kinds of wounds. That’s why it’s so important that we learn the art of repair. Repair helps us to rebuild the relationship after rupture. Healthy repair is an act of caring behaviour that shows we value the relationship and want to move forwards. One of the keys of repair is knowing when to apologise, and when to forgive. It’s important to take responsibility for your part in a conflict and show empathy to how the other person is feeling. Acknowledge what you have learned in the situation and how you want to grow or move onwards. These vital steps can help to strengthen the relationship and make us less likely to fall into the same conflict pattern in future.

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