The festive period can be busy. You might be feeling rushed, or spending time with people who you see only once a year. You, or others may have expectations that may not be met, and conflict or hurt feelings can easily arise.
It’s important to remember conflict is a part of everyday life. We may not have good skills to manage it when we are children, but as an adult, developing skills to manage conflict is essential for healthy relationships. Healthy relationships in the workplace and healthy personal relationships. Conflict provides opportunities for change, for growth and for better communication: we can’t grow by spending time surrounded by people who think exactly the same way as ourselves.
The good news is that we can begin to practice and model healthy ways of navigating different opinions, values and perspectives:
- Separate the person from the problem. People are complicated, and conflict is typically related to a behaviour, an event, or an attitude. Keep it specific. Try to describe the problem as something specific you could see actors doing in a movie.E.g. “I don’t like it when you get angry that I haven’t put petrol in the car”.
- Address conflict with the right person. Complaining or venting to others rarely solves problems, the best way to resolve conflict is to address it with the other person directly and openly. It can help to ask them to meet and let them know what you want to talk about. Avoiding conflict can feel easier than facing it, but with repeated practice, you will become more confident in your ability to manage conflict. It is a skill that requires practice.
- Model neutral language. It’s easy when emotions run high to begin using inflammatory words, to exaggerate, to over-generalise (always, never), make personal attacks, insult, take an extreme position and use profanity. Insults, sarcasm and belittling the other person are unhelpful. Choose to moderate your language and take the time to select words that keep things calm.
- Model neutral body language. Avoid sighing, eye rolling, glaring, crossing your arms, stamping your feet, slamming doors and other aggressive or defensive body language that might put the other person offside. Go for a walk if you need to get your body under control.
- Take time to calm down. It’s important to reflect and understand what triggered the conflict, whether your anger is an appropriate response, what it is that you are upset about and how the conflict can be resolved.
- Think about your words. Use assertive language. “I -based” statements can help structure conversation in a way that feels less aggressive. A useful formula is: I feel (strongest feeling)…..When you (objective description of the behaviour, what you could see on a video screen)…..Because (specific impact or consequences)……I would like (what specific behaviour you want the person to do in the future to prevent the problem).
- Make it a win-win situation. Pride can often get in the way of resolving conflict. Giving up a little doesn’t mean you have lost. Find the middle ground and learn to be flexible. Agree to disagree without harbouring resentment that the other person thinks differently. If you need to win, then the other person needs to lose. That’s generally not going to make for a resolution.
- Use active listening. That means listening carefully (not thinking about what you are going to say), but listening to find out what the other person thinks and feels. Listening to understand of what they want, and why they are upset. Without listening well, there is no way to understand what a win-win looks like – and no chance that you might actually learn something new and change your mind!
- Once it is over, it’s over. Learn to leave conflict in the past. Learning to tolerate conflict means accepting that a win-win may not be the ‘perfect’ outcome. It means accepting that sometimes there is no easy resolution. And for good mental health, it means learning to move on rather than stewing.
Dr Amanda Mullin is a Doctor of Clinical Psychology, and the Director of Mindworx Psychology, an award-winning Clinical Psychology and Executive Coaching Practice based in Sydney, Australia. With a family of her own, a stellar career, and her own set of hurdles to jump, Dr Amanda understands the challenges faced in avoiding burnout and the search for positive mental health.
Dr Amanda is the creator of the popular “Think Differently” program, with the big, fat, hairy, audacious goal to change lives for the better.
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