Conflict is one of the key issues that brings people to counseling. Any relationship (marriage, couples, siblings, parent-child, or employee-employer) inevitably encounters problems that need to be resolved. Many people avoid conflict, which unintentionally adds stress to the original problem and may exacerbate the situation. However there are tools and techniques which can help them to greatly improve the quality of their relationships and their lives. Once people learn to successfully communicate their needs and negotiate them in a variety of life situations, they are in a better position.
Here are some strategies to address and prevent conflict:
- Learning to speak in "I" statements.
- It's very easy to point the finger at someone else, but typically people are not receptive when they are told what they are doing wrong. Instead of saying, "You did this to me," "I" statements soften the response. A more productive reply would be, "I felt hurt when you did x." In this way we take responsibility for our own feelings and are less likely to put the other person on the defensive.
- Determining if we have a responsibility for part of the conflict.
- This takes some self-examination and courage. Honestly looking at our contribution, if there is one, puts us in a position of increased strength and perspective. Once we can own our part in the conflict, we usually become less angry. We recognize that we are not entirely victims of circumstance, and we are more able to come up with empowering ways to address the situation. However, it is important to note, in extreme or abusive situations, we may not have a part at all. In this case, our best course of action is to seek therapy.
- Avoiding blame and criticism.
- Being the receptor of perceived blame or criticism will further alienate the person you are seeking to resolve conflict with. Therefore, it is critical that you learn to state your needs and goals using "I" statements, as mentioned above.
- Brainstorming solutions.
- Instead of viewing the other person as an adversary, it can help to think of them as a partner in solving a problem. This enables you to take a step back, look at the situation more objectively, and come up with solutions together.
While it is useful to learn techniques that you can use on your own, it may be necessary to go beyond this and work with a licensed psychotherapist. In therapy, you can begin to understand the unconscious as well as conscious contributions you might be making to the challenging situation. You can also role-play different ways to respond to conflict so that you have tools if similar issues appear in the future. This enables you to feel less worried about potential conflict and to feel more empowered.