Become a master at conflict resolution
Nobody likes conflict, or having tough conversations. It’s rare that we see eye-to-eye with people all the time, so these sticky situations are bound to arise no matter what. However, if you can master the art of conflict resolution, all of your relationships will be stronger, happier and more rewarding. Learning to diffuse tension rather than let it escalate will set you up for success and ensure that a discussion doesn’t turn into a full-blown fight—one where you say things you can’t take back. Remaining calm, really listening, keeping the tone light—these tactics will make sure that both sides walk away happy, and will only serve to strengthen the relationship in the end.
1. It’s about resolving the conflict, not being right
The aim of every difficult discussion should be some sort of consensus or common ground that serves everyone involved. If you’re going into an argument with one goal—to win—ultimately, everyone will come out a loser. Since issues are never strictly black and white, if you start from a place of curiosity and remember that both sides are at least a little bit right, you’ll grant your friend or partner the respect and openness necessary to reach resolution.
2. Listen up
Listening is the key to unlocking any conflict—period. Most people are just seeking to be heard, so if you can be an active listener from the very beginning, you’ll let the other person know that you’re coming from a place of respect and curiosity, and that you truly want to understand their side. Active listening happens when we validate what we’ve heard by paraphrasing it back to the person we’re talking to. You can also use the phrase “So what I’m hearing is,” and make sure they know you’re following their point. It’s also important to truly give that person the floor as they seek to make themselves heard, without cutting them off or interrupting. Not only will these tactics diffuse defensiveness and make the discussion feel open and safe, but they will, in turn, ensure that your own side is heard when it’s your turn to talk.
3. Keep the tone and volume in check
As a difficult discussion unfolds, it’s common for people to get heated or defensive—which can lead to raised voices and hurtful tones. You can start the discussion by asking upfront for a calm and level conversation with no yelling or sarcasm, and agree to use safe phrases like “tone check” or “volume check” as a reminder when things start to heat up. The moment tension starts to rise, it’s imperative to pause and address that the respectful and neutral tone of the discussion is going off the rails. By agreeing to keep the tone neutral, both sides will feel safe in the conversation, and it’s more likely consensus can be achieved. If you find yourself getting heated, a helpful phrase in your arsenal to keep the other person from feeling attacked is “I’m not mad at you, I’m mad at the situation.”
4. Stick to the current conflict, and leave the past in the past
It’s tempting to bring up old fights in the middle of new ones. Having the same fight over and over again is not only exhausting, it can do irreparable damage to a relationship over time. That’s why it’s necessary to stick to the discussion at hand and not dredge up old hurts and conflicts that have long been put to bed. The longer you practice this, the more both sides will feel like there is genuine forgiveness and resolution happening along the way, rather than thinking you’re incapable of forgiving and forgetting. It also gives you a much better chance of solving the actual problem at hand, rather than getting off course by reopening old fights.
5. Remember, a little laughter goes a long way
The quickest way to cut tension, anger and frustration is laughter. As a difficult dialogue unfolds, look for opportunities to inject fun and keep things light along the way. A silly joke or some self-deprecating humor can change the conversation's tone for the better. When both sides laugh together, it’s easier to remember how much you like each other and genuinely want to solve any misunderstanding or friction that’s come up.
Congrats! You're now a professional problem solver
Conflict may be an inevitable part of life and love, but most conflicts are bumps in the road of otherwise healthy relationships. If you can learn to navigate those bumps better, you can build partnerships and friendships that stand the test of time and get even stronger as they go. Once you have a range of valuable and healthy conflict resolution tools in your toolkit, you’ll be able to skillfully navigate conflicts that arise in every part of your life, from personal to professional and everything in between.
Elle Kensington is a lifestyle writer based in NYC.