Conflict tends to bring out the worst in most of us. It is a stressful state, often triggering some bad communication habits in an effort to limit personal vulnerability. Much like a porcupine, when we feel vulnerable it is not unusual to bristle in an effort to protect ourselves – unfortunately this reaction tends to make things worse.
There are many common “reaction styles” that are problematic responses to conflict: accusing, swearing, using hostile gestures, name calling, or physically attacking one another are all examples of poor conflict response. Some of these are more common and “accepted” than others, but all are problematic.
Focusing on being civil throughout a conflict (any conflict) can greatly reduce the likelihood of escalation of the dispute and quite possibly assist in resolution of the issue. By remaining civil to one another the focus of the discussion stays on the issue at hand as opposed to becoming a battle where each person focuses on “winning” or not “losing” the argument, or worse tries to hurt the other person.
Once tempers rise and negative “reaction styles” start to emerge, continued civil discussion is unlikely. Curtailing a discussion to revisit it at a later time is a positive reaction. There are some steps that can be taken to increase the likelihood that of civil discussion:
- Plan purposeful discussions: Planning to have a discussion about a specific topic allows everyone to be prepared and prevents an immediate defensive reaction. These discussions should take place when there is time and distractions are at a minimum.
- Pay attention to stress levels: If a discussion is causing internal stress levels to rise it is probably a good idea to take a break or plan to pick up the conversation at a different time. In situations that cannot be avoided and seem to automatically increase stress levels, focus on taking deep controlled breaths and slowing down responses.
- Set Ground Rules: No name calling, sarcasm, threats, physical acts, or swearing are good rules to live by in conflict situations.
- Respect the role of the other person: Typically the most difficult conflicts to address are those that involve people who have a specific relationship that is not by choice – such as co-workers, ex-spouses, neighbors. Although a relationship might not be chosen or easy it may be necessary. Respecting the role that the person plays can assist in keeping the relationship and any interactions in perspective.
More Communication Tips:
- We Can’t Talk To One Another, Can We Mediate?
- You Don’t Have to Live With Workplace Conflict
- Parenting Communication Tip: Email, Text, IM
- Conflict Resolution Tip: Avoid Personal Attacks