Conflict in our relationships is inevitable. We all have differing opinions and expectations which can lead to disputes. Conflict is often seen as negative but it doesn’t necessarily need to be. Conflict can be positive if handled thoughtfully. For this to happen each person needs to accept responsibility for resolution. We only have four choices in life – put up with things the way they are; make changes that give a greater level of satisfaction; blame someone else; or walk away.  Sometimes this can be a difficult choice especially when the conflict is within an intimate relationship.

The beginning of a new year is an appropriate time to reflect on our relationships and any changes we would like to make. Our behaviour is the only behaviour we can do anything about. We are unable to change someone else. We can take responsibility for ourselves and sometimes even one person making changes in their own life can be enough to inspire someone else to change theirs. Perhaps there are certain relationships which have always been riddled with conflict for any number of reasons, even changing the way you react in certain situations with that person could be enough of a catalyst for change within that relationship. If you would like 2017 to be different in the way you deal with conflict in your relationships, some of the following tips may help.

  1. Cool off. Whether the conflict occurred 2 years ago, or 2 minutes ago, it cannot be solved in the face of hot emotions. Before attempting to talk things out it is important to gain some emotional distance.
  2. Use “I” messages. “I” messages are a tool for expressing how we feel without attacking or blaming. By starting with “I” we take responsibility for the way we perceive the problem. “You” messages can put others on the defensive and close doors to communication. We need to come from a place inside that’s non-combative and willing to compromise. A key credo in conflict resolution is, “It’s us against the problem, not us against each other.” “I messages” enable us to convey this.
  3. Listen in a way to really hear what is being said. Reflective listening seeks to understand a speaker’s idea, then offers the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly. It demonstrates that we care enough to hear the other person out, rather than just focusing on our own point of view. It actually fosters empathy.
  4. Take responsibility. In the majority of conflicts, both parties have some degree of responsibility. However, most of us tend to blame rather than looking at our own role in the problem. When we take responsibility, we shift the conflict into an entirely different gear, one where resolution is possible.
  5. Brainstorm solutions and come up with one that satisfies both people.
    Resolving conflicts is a creative act. There are many solutions to a single problem. The key is a willingness to seek compromises.
  6. Affirm, forgive, or thank. A handshake, hug, or kind word gives closure to the resolution of conflicts. Just saying thank you at the end of a conflict, or acknowledging the person for working things out sends a message of conciliation and gratitude. We preserve our relationships this way, strengthening our connections and working through problems that arise.

As you venture into a new year contemplating how to handle conflict which may arise or has been present in relationships for some time, take stock of some of these tips and make 2017 a calmer and more peaceful year for you and those you come into contact with. Think of the impact on all your relationships. Peace starts with each of us and sometimes we need to take the first step. As Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in others.”

If you are still having difficulty, consider seeking mediation to help you resolve the conflict. With a neutral third party present they can help you talk through your issues in a comfortable and calm environment, encouraging active listening and assisting you to reach a resolution you can all work with for many years to come.

“I messages” are a tool for expressing how we feel without attacking or blaming. By starting from “I” we take responsibility for the way we perceive the problem.
This is in sharp contrast to “you messages” which put others on the defensive and close doors to communication. A statement like, “You’ve left the kitchen a mess again! Can’t you ever clean up after yourself?” will escalate the conflict. Now take a look at how differently an “I message comes across: “I’m annoyed because I thought we agreed you’d clean up the kitchen after using it. What happened?” 

When making “I” statements it’s important to avoid put-downs, guilt-trips, blame, sarcasm, or negative body language.