By Matthew Welsh, Esq., Founder of Spiritual Media Blog
Conflict will inevitably arise in life, especially with people who we are close to. Conflict in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing. If we handle conflict well, it may actually be an opportunity to grow individually and deepen a relationship by allowing two people to more fully learn about each other. However, if we handle conflict poorly, then it may result in resentment or a damaged or ruined relationship. People typically handle conflict in one of three styles: Aggressively, Passively, or Assertively.
Everyone likely engages in all of these styles at different times. Aggressive conflict resolution styles typically involve attacking, bullying, insulting, or intimidating another person into getting what you want. It may manifest itself in threats, yelling, or manipulation. In the short run, it may allow you to get what you want temporarily, but in the long run, it may ruin a relationship, push people away, and lead to isolation. Passive styles involve avoiding a situation. In the short run passive behavior may result in avoiding a particularly uncomfortable conversation. However, in the long run, it can lead to resentment towards yourself or someone else for not addressing a boundary violation, being taken advantage of, bottling up emotions, future explosions, and lower self-esteem.
The most constructive way to handle conflict is an assertive style. An assertive style of conflict resolution involves protecting your boundaries by expressing what you need and how you feel to another person in a calm and direct manner. 5 steps to manage a conflict in an assertive manner are below.
1. Identify your feelings and needs
Usually, a conflict involves feeling angry. Anger can be a difficult emotion to recognize because some people, especially in spiritual or self-help communities, have been taught that anger is a “bad” emotion or we should never feel angry. However, anger, in and of itself is not bad or wrong. How we manage or express our anger is what makes a difference. Sometimes, feeling anger can be a helpful emotion because it lets us know that someone has crossed one of our boundaries or is acting unjustly. Recognizing that we are angry is the first step in dealing with it in a healthy manner. Additionally, it can be helpful to identify the intensity of our anger. Anger is not a “black or white” emotion. Anger ranges in intensity from mild annoyance to rage. Research has shown that simply identifying that we are angry and the intensity of our anger during a conflict can actually make us feel less angry or decrease the intensity of the anger.
Again, the goal is not to get rid of anger during a conflict, but to learn how to deal with it in a healthy manner – or decrease the intensity of anger to point where we feel like we can control it and express it in a healthy manner. Below are steps to managing anger in a healthy manner when we are in a conflict with another person.
In addition to identifying how you feel, it is also important to identify what you need from another person or from yourself. For example, do you need the other person to speak to you with more respect or be more kind or gentle with you or simply show up on time. Or, do you have a need within yourself that you are not addressing such as needing to rest, eat, or take more time for yourself that you need to express to another. Expressing needs to other people allows you to take care of yourself, protects your boundaries, and prevents anger and resentment from building up. Simply identifying your needs and feelings can help reduce the intensity of those feelings and help you become more clear in what you need from yourself or another person to resolve or manage a conflict.
2. Ask the person when you said or did “X”, what did you mean or why did you do that?
This is a good way to start a conversation that involves a conflict because asking this question gives the other person a chance to clear up any misunderstanding. The conflict may have been due to you not understanding their intentions or reason for their behavior and this question allows them to explain why they did what they did. Also, and more importantly, this question is a polite, but direct way to bring up the situation. It also essentially is letting the other person know that you recognized what they did or said and would like to have a conversation about it.
3. Express your feeling and needs to other person in a calm and direct manner.
The third step to managing a conflict is tell the person in a calm and direct manner exactly how you are feeling what you need from them. Good sample language to use is:
“I felt X (angry) when you did Y (spoke to me like that)”
“I need for you to do X (speak to me with more kindness in the future)”
This can be very challenging to do because we may feel awkward or uncomfortable. We may not know how the other person will respond. Also, many of us have been conditioned to avoid conflict or anger. So, we often feel uncomfortable addressing other people when we are angry or need something from them. However, the advantage of telling another person what you need and how you feel is that you will most likely feel better about yourself because you have expressed your authentic feelings and needs. Additionally, it does NOT guarantee that you will get what you want or change the other person, but it increases the chances and it allows the other person to better understand you. Further, it also helps you realize if the other person will respect your boundaries or not. After these conversations, you may realize the other person will respect your boundaries and change their behavior around you. However, if they are not willing to respect
your boundaries, then at least you are aware of that and then can decide if this person is someone it is even possible to have a healthy relationship with.
4. Ask them: “Is this something you can do for me?”
The next step would be to ask the person if this is something they can do. This accomplishes a few things. First, it gives the other person more autonomy in the situation and lets them feel like they have more control. Second, if the person says yes, then you have their compliance. People are more likely to do something they have said they will do. And, you can remind them in the future that they agreed to do this.
5. Ask them: “Is there anything you need from me?”
This final step allows for the other person to express what they may need from you in the future. This may also allow them to express any frustration they may be feeling and allow you to know if there is something you could do differently to help them. This also helps you better understand the person and can deepen a relationship. It can also decrease the chances that they will build up resentment against you.
Obviously, these steps may vary from situation to situation. And, you may want to find your own language or style to fit with your personality and situation. However, this is a good outline that you can use to help you manage a conflict with another person to turn it into a learning and growth opportunity/conversation, rather than the conflict getting into a heated argument or becoming passive. This is not always easy to do. And, no matter how well you know the person, you are likely to experience some level of nervousness before and during the conversation. However, using this conflict resolution outline will increase the chances of reaching an agreement and at the very least help you express your most authentic feelings and needs in an assertive manner.
Conflict management is difficult, but can help us improve our relationships with others and ourselves. If you are struggling to find the right way to manage a conflict, please let me know or leave a comment and I would be happy to give you some more specific suggestions and advice.