Let’s face it: conflict is part of our life. Everyday we’re challenged with many shades and levels of discord: with family, friends, colleagues, teachers or complete strangers.
Many dictionaries define conflict as a struggle between two or more parties who have opposite needs and goals and who try to prevail over one another to achieve said goals and needs. The word “struggle” is essential in our description since it really gives the idea of how conflict is perceived and considered in nowaday society.
Noone likes to struggle, to spend a lot of energy and get stressed to achieve something. But conflict, arguments, quarrels and debates are tiring and most of the times, if they do not lead to any kind of solution, they distance people from each other and sadly risk ending relationships and friendships.
This is exactly the reason why nowadays we avoid conflict. Everyone seems to be spending as much energy as possibile avoiding every possible direct confrontation or difficul situation that might put them in a spot they don’t want to be in. Conflict is becoming a dreaded word, something to run from or to hide away. Is this a good way to cope with conflict?
If you avoid direct confrontation about delicate subjects with friends and family you might be able to avoid embarassing situation and you may even evade a tiring argument that would last hours and probably end up with months of silence and deathly stares. But is this a real “solution“?
Thinking about it, you may notice that this way of acting, even if it can be considered “safe“, will probably never bring to a concrete solution to your problem. The tension between you and the other person will still be lurking underneath and will, be sure of that, come out someday in the near future.
Now, of course, there is an enormous spectrum of different situations with specific elements and features that make it impossible to generalize, so this article is only trying to give you some basic hints that you can apply in your everyday life according to your specific circumstances and context. So, let’s start with a simple list of interesting pinpoints that you should always remember to change your perspective about conflict:
- Conflict is not a bad thing. It means that there is a problem, a halt in that specific relationship between you and the other person. However, this perilous crisis, if correctly worked out, could lead to a positive development.
- When people get angry it is, most of the times, because they care about you and what they share with you. Don’t be scared to argue with others or to listen to them, if they really hated you they wouldn’t really care!
- Sometimes people just want to be heard. Try to put yourself and your pride on the side for a second and put some effort in actually listening to what others have to say to you.
- “Listen with your heart and not with your ears”. When in conflict with someone, make sure to really get what they’re saying, as direct and rude as it may be; every word may have a hidden meaning.
- Make sure you have understood what they are trying to express by simply asking them. Calmly asking somone who’s very angry if you correctly understood their words will ease the tension and make them lucid again.
- Express what you feel but try to “neutralize” your and their anger and feelings to certain extents. This, as hard as it can seem, will make the conversation more productive and you might reach a profitable agreement sooner than expected.
- Do not hurry for a solution. You don’t need to set things right immediately all the time. If you can make a point or even a simple agreement on something very easy, it could be a good start even for the worst enemies.
- Know when to walk away. Forcing things will not help. If you cannot solve the situation now, because there can be no immediate understanding or mutual cohoperation, leave it. Maybe you both need some time to think about your actions.
There are various techniques that can be used during a verbale confrontation to redirect the conversation towards a mutual agreement or a settlment. One of them, according to scientists and psychologists, is certainly “looping“. By looping, we allude to the action of repeating the other person’s phrases, deprived of their anger and slightly changed, to make sure we got the meaning right. While doing that, you have to make sure you’re not saying that you accept them, nor give away your view on things, you just want to ensure that you know exactly what they mean and how they feel. This specific technique may seem easy, but it is actually very difficult to use and is being studied by several mediators and negotiators in order to correctly apply it during legal mediation sessions.
You should also be careful about the words you say. Even the most common and apparently innocent ones could appear negative or angry. You never know how someone else will react to your phrases, so you should train yourself to avoid using certain words or turns of phrase. Here is quite a useful list that could help:
- “Why…?“. Starting a phrase with this adverb will make the other person feel attacked and they will react accordingly. Try to ask questions in a different, more relaxed way.
- “I….I“. Try not to talk too much about your perspective, you want to make sure that both parties are equally taken into account.
- “I think that you../ I know what you mean“. These kinds of phrase can easily nullify all the apparent comprehension you so hardly tried to build during the conversation. Remember: you cannot speak for the other person, you just want to understand!
- “You’re wrong“. Yes, yes, sometimes people are wrong, well, most of the times, but so are you! Even when you think others are not getting things right, remember: you persective is not the only one around.
To sum up, conflict is part of our life, it cannot and should not be avoid all the time. Peace is nothing without conflict and if you use these tips you might make your life a lot easier.