From MMA fighters to yoga teachers, we all do it. It happens to the best of us.
The happiest, most well adjusted, balanced and calm of us have conflict with people we are close to and at one point or another, we say things we wish we would have said differently or not at all. And in the heat of the moment, we do things our rational self would find idiotic.
None of us wants to argue but it can happen in any relationship.
We might argue about money, sex, kids, chores, where to vacation or whose turn it is to walk the dog. Maybe we argue about free time, work time, other men or other women and sometimes we argue about arguing. These conflicts can range from slight disagreements to full blown-shouting-until-your-neighbors-come-knocking-on-your-door arguments which can lead to all kinds of embarrassing apologies and yep…more arguing.
The potential for conflict doesn’t stop with our partners.
We might argue with our kids, bosses, co-workers, parents or siblings, friends, teachers, or the random stranger who told you to shut the hell up on social media. It doesn’t matter who we are in conflict with, in order to fight fair or better yet, put out a fire before it starts, some tools are required.
Conflict resolution does not always come easy. Sometimes habits kick in and we resort to unhealthy patterns that we more than likely learned from an early age. We might raise our voice, blame, get physical, or we might shut down, none of which help to resolve conflict of any kind with anyone.
The outcome of most relationships, and thus our entire futures, might be determined by how we respond during conflict. Most relationships are only as strong as their ability to withstand storms. It’s worth taking the time and energy to learn how to disagree in a healthy way.
1. Count to ten. This old stand-by works simply by slowing us down enough to allow emotions to disperse at least a little bit. If we want to find resolution in a conflict, the things we say have to make sense. Venting doesn’t solve most human problems. Slowing down allows for clearer, more logical, focused, less emotionally charged thoughts and overall better communication.
2. Take personal inventory. Step back and see yourself as someone else might. Are you acting irrational? Being unfair? Do you appear threatening, dangerous or unreasonable? Are you approachable? Would you want to talk to you? Relax your face. Un-crunch your forehead and relax your mouth and jaw. You can still be angry but a discussion will be much easier if you don’t look angry.
3. Breathe. More importantly—exhale. A few deep breaths slows the heart rate, which decreases adrenal response. If, in the heat of the moment, you are finding this difficult, interlace the fingers of both hands, rest your hands on the back of your head and open your elbows. This forces a deeper, fuller breath and has the added benefit of making you look relaxed and at ease at the same time.
4. Choose your words wisely. Language matters. Words spoken in anger may or may not be a completely honest reflection of how we truly feel. In fact they may just be angry words—but when you are the recipient of hateful, angry, spiteful words sometimes the damage can’t be undone. We can’t un-hear something. Once hurtful words come out of our mouths a thousand apologies won’t put them back in. Think before you speak. Words have power—they can be nourishment or poison.
5. Never name call. Just don’t.
6. Be present. The past is the past. Unless it is relevant to this moment, or a repeated behavior or pattern that has never been resolved, avoid bringing up the past. Remember, people change every day. The person you’re in conflict with is not the same person they were last year, last week or even yesterday. The point you might be trying to make may no longer apply today. Angry words that have nothing to do with the current situation are far more harmful than helpful.
7. Listen. We all want to be heard. Don’t assume you know what another person is thinking, feeling or trying to communicate. Ask for clarity. Say something to the effect of “what I’m hearing you say is….” or “am I understanding you correctly?” Often, assumptions cause more damage than reality.
8. Take a time out. Remember, it takes two to tango. If you’re in conflict with your partner and you want to find resolution remind yourself that your person probably feels the same way. Give them credit. Remember that your beloved is probably not the total a** you think they are in this moment or you would not have chosen them in the first place. If the other person is in attack mode it is okay to disengage. Take five minutes, 10 minutes, whatever it takes. Agree to calm down and come back.
9. Choose your battles wisely. Sometimes it’s better to be happy than right. Some points are worth making and some are irrelevant or petty. Ask yourself: Is this really worth arguing about? Does it make a difference? Will this matter in a week, a month, a year? Am I antagonizing? If you are on the other end of another’s anger, remind yourself that we all have off days and possibly the person in front of you is distracted by something else in their life. Possibly you are the unfortunate recipient of something that has nothing to do with you. It doesn’t make us weak to let things go. An old friend who was nearly always happy would say “Let it drip off of you, like water off a duck’s back.” Certainly, conflict opens doors to resolution and improved relationships but not everything is worth fighting for.
10. Imagine this is the last time you might see this person. Things happen. Ask yourself: If you were to never see the person you’re in conflict with again, how would you want this conversation to be remembered? There are no time machines. Sometimes we get one chance and one chance only to say or do the right thing.
Conflict in life is unavoidable.
Usually we don’t choose it but we do get to choose how we deal with it. We can decide to forgive but we can’t decide to forget, some memories never fade regardless of how much we would like them to, which is why it is so important to disagree in ways that help, not hurt. If we carry that knowledge with us constantly we might choose kinder, gentler words executed with much more love, patience and understanding.
Author: Kimby Maxon
Editor: Catherine Monkman