Resolving Conflict

When some people hear the word “conflict” or “confrontation,” they experience negative feelings. Those words can make people run for the hills because they can mean that a situation is difficult to handle. Dealing with conflict is not something people usually like to do. In fact, many people avoid conflict at all costs because it does not feel good. However, there are ways to handle conflict that can truly help make it a more tolerable notion. Here are some techniques that can help in the workplace and with friends and family.

  • Own your feelings: When a person has conflict with somebody, it is easy to immediately move to blame and say, “Well, it’s your fault, not mine.” However, those types of statements only get us into a blame cycle and we never really get anywhere because of it. Owning your feelings means saying things like, “When this happened, I felt sad, upset, and disappointed.” This kind of approach actually calms the one hearing these words and can create an environment of safety rather than hostility.

  • Be willing to dialogue: Oftentimes in conflict, we get stuck in telling our story so that it becomes a monologue. This gesture makes our audience shut down and want to walk out on what we are saying. If one is willing to ask, “How did you perceive this event?” the other person will be more open to hear one’s point of view.

  • Admit your faults: When someone confronts me about something, and if in fact I am wrong, I admit it. But even if I think I am not wrong, I try to see the other person’s point of view. If I can’t see this alternative point of view, I ask myself, “Why not?” I may also ask the other person, “I am having a hard time understanding where you are coming from; can you help me a little?” Immediately that approach helps a person become a team member of mine in resolving conflict rather than my opponent.

  • Stay Calm: Admittedly, this one can be hard, especially when you feel you are not being heard, when you feel you are being treated poorly, and so on. However, exploding at a person only makes things worse. Now that does not mean you do not get mad or even express something to the effect, “Wow, I am feeling angry with that statement,” but it does mean that we should not let our anger control our actions. Yelling, storming out, making a scene just makes the situation worse. One of the techniques I use when I need to stay calm in a situation is mindfulness. One mindfulness trick is to begin to notice things I see around me. For example: If I am in an office, I will say in my head, “Lamp, chair, picture” and so on. Before I know it, the anger I feel loses its power over me, and instead of it controlling me, I control it.

  • Your feelings matter: Whatever the situation is, remember that your feelings and perceptions matter. Ask yourself, “What is making me upset?” “Why is it making me upset?” “How can I be true to myself and respectful and kind to others?”

These techniques do not come easy. We are taught to run from conflict, to ignore it, or to challenge it. I think of conflict as an opportunity to learn. Learning is sometimes not easy and there is often a learning curve. So as you try these steps, be sure to give yourself grace in that you may not get it right all the time. Again, admitting you are trying is a huge step in itself!

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    Kimberly Castelo, LMFT, CST, CIIP


    Annie, Clinical Intern