Conflicts are inevitable. They’re a fact of life, and sometimes conflicts are actually helpful. They bring up issues that would otherwise lurk beneath the surface, and force couples and groups to process and move beyond problems that might otherwise fester.
Here at Brainscape, we think that the ability to deal with conflict in a productive, helpful manner is one of the key skills for success that young people need to cultivate, so this post discusses that topic.
The Roots of Conflict
When you’re dealing with a conflict, the words you use matter. They matter a lot. That’s because conflicts are fundamentally emotional; disagreements only become conflicts when our feelings dominate the situation. When our choler is up, we can say things that we don’t mean or use our words in unfortunate ways that only make things worse.
Often, conflicts are not really only about the people involved. They’re focused on an issue or dispute. In these situations, conflicts can escalate when both parties believe that they are right, and the other person is wrong. In reality, this may not be true; both may be right, at least partially, or both may be wrong and a third approach is needed.
The third main root of conflict is difficulty with communication itself. Often what you mean to say and what the other parties hear aren’t always the same, which can make everything worse.
So how can you deal with these situations and make conflicts productive? Here are four strategies that can help.
When you’re too emotionally involved in a situation, you probably shouldn’t be engaging in an argument. Instead, just stay silent. If someone is really upset, you may have to listen to them vent their feelings at you. That’s ok. Let them say what they are going to say, and make sure they know you’re listening.
Then, once you’ve calmed down enough, the conversation can continue. If you’re still fired up, you can say that you need some time to calm down before having the conversation.
Strategy #2: Talk from Your Own Perspective
There is one issue that can cause disputes to escalate every time: generalizations. By this, we mean generalizations like when someone says “you always do this!” Generalizations are dangerous, so when you’re in a conflict, it’s best to only speak to your own experience.
A key element of this is using the words “I feel.” For example, you could say: “This has happened a few times, and I feel ignored.” By focusing on your own feelings, you can change an argument from butting heads to something more constructive.
Strategy #3: Ask Questions
Another tip for dealing with these conflicts is asking questions to tease out the exact root of the issue. This means active listening: you need to repeat back to people what you’re hearing, and make sure you’re interpreting it correctly. Clarify their statements and try to dig deeper to find out the “what, why, and how” of the problem.
Strategy #4: Find Overlaps
Whenever there is a conflict, you’re likely arguing with someone you know from work, home, or school. You’ll often have shared goals, like the desire for a healthy, productive work environment, a happy and relaxed home, and good grades.
You can use this to your advantage. By focusing on where your positions overlap and shared values and goals, you can begin to move past the difficulties themselves to focus on solutions. This sort of approach may involve compromise, but that’s sometimes how relationships work. The best solution is often in the middle.
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