How to Avoid Being Part of the Problem in Conflicts

Updated: February 27, 2010

Since we haven't been trained in how to actually defuse the situation, we frequently become part of the problem in interpersonal relationships rather than helping devise a solution. This happens because we lack essential skills or we lose perspective and let the other person goad us into the conflict. Think about the following scenarios and see if you can spot the difference between being part of the problem and not.

1. The other person gets angry and you immediately retaliate and/or defend yourself.

2. The other person gets angry and you ask them to tell you about it and you listen.

As I'm sure you can tell, example number two is the more desirable behavior and will get you far better results. There is a myth that we have to fight to the death for our point of view and deny others theirs but, in practical terms, this only perpetuates a communication style that continues the conflict because it never resolves the underlying issues that feed the situation. We stumble from conflict to conflict hoping they'll go away or looking forward to the next one but never actually fixing our conflicts. I much prefer a scenario where we actually make the conflict go away by resolving it. This is possible by practicing some common-sense skills that too often get lost in the midst of all the shouting.

One of the best ways to reduce confrontation is to simply listen. The world is not going to end if you don't retaliate or fight. In reality, you actually connect more with the other person if you just listen to them. You also benefit from not having to fight and you get to relax more. When you listen it doesn't mean that you agree with the other person, it just indicates that you are willing to consider the other person's point of view. Listening is a powerful skill for defusing conflict because it makes the other person feel important. People tend to explode or talk with great urgency because they are used to people cutting them off. When we don't cut them off they can tell us what's bothering them and then we can work together to actually find a solution.

The next skill is to not become defensive. Many people think that the only way to deal with conflict is to retaliate. This approach rarely fixes anything and often escalates the situation. If your goal is to actually resolve things then it is helpful to rein yourself in and not go on the offensive. The reason we react defensively is that we feel attacked when others are in conflict with us, we take it personally. In actuality, people get upset for any number of reasons and it is usually about things that are going on inside them. Next time you are in a conflict try a different approach. Take some time to consciously listening to the other person or calm yourself down by breathing or counting. When we remain composed, we don't add fuel to the fire and our interactions tend to go in a more positive direction. Even in the face of active conflict, if we simply take a breath and let the other person process what's going on inside them we greatly increase the chances that they will calm down. In general, people aren't furious at us, they are simply working on their own issues and we happen to be in the vicinity.

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