How to Handle Conflict & Improve Your Relationships

“If you have nothing nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” is among the most terrible advice I’ve ever received. It only took me 20-some-odd years to figure this out. 

Growing up, I avoided confrontation like the plague. I hated arguments because I was raised by combative people, so avoidance was my way to balance and cope with that. 

After awhile, I felt trapped in my own mind. The more opportunities I missed to express myself, the angrier I became. I wanted this inner rage to end. 

It took an amazing college class to show me that conflict and confrontation aren’t bad things. I also learned that I was what the communication streets would call “conflict avoidant”.  

Being conflict avoidant involves using tactics to escape dealing with an issue. Don’t know if this is you? Consider these questions: 

  • Do you hide or downplay your feelings a lot? 
  • Do you believe that talking about your problems only makes things worse? 
  • Do you shut down/resort to stonewalling when presented with issues? 
  • Do you depend on anything outside of yourself to solve your relationship problems? 

If you answered “yes” to most of those questions, then welcome to the conflict avoider club, help yourself to some wine & misery in the back. 

Kerry Washington Wine GIF by ABC Network - Find & Share on GIPHY

What I’ve realized: Avoiding conflict doesn’t eliminate my problems. If anything, it escalates them. When we sidestep difficult conversations, we cause more conflict in our lives. It leaves us suffering in silence, which may cause resentment to build. 

We’re in a constant battle with ourselves when we don’t say how we feel, and war never brought anyone closer to peace. So, now that I’ve acknowledged this, how do I work to address it, correct it, and move forward? It helps to keep these things in mind: 

Conflict is inevitable

It’s impossible to go through life without facing conflicts. Ironically, we end up with less when we become more accepting of them, so it’s best to embrace it. 

Embracing conflict won’t suddenly make us hostile, combative, or a ‘drama queen’; it enhances both business and personal relationships when we handle it properly.

One problem is that we, sometimes, perceive conflict as a threat, instead of a teachable moment. It’s alright to fight sometimes, just do it tactfully and respectfully. We’d feel better about conflicts (and resolve them more quickly) if we framed them as opportunities for growth instead of something harmful. 

It’s ok to fall back & cool off…for now  

A cardinal rule of solving conflict is knowing when to say when. 

I recently saw a tweet saying, “You’re either gonna honor your mood or your commitment. Choose which means more to you at that moment.” I’m paraphrasing, but the concept stuck with me…

Comedy Communicate GIF by Kim's Convenience - Find & Share on GIPHY

Yes, it’s important to address your issues, but it’s up to us to know/say when we can’t communicate respectfully and need to regroup. It’s best to choose our battles wisely, as some things aren’t worth addressing. (sidenote: This is NOT to be confused with the silent treatment or stonewalling, mentioned above, which happens when someone’s not interested in a solution.) 

Taking a ‘cool-off’ period may be essential to solving the problem, but don’t let it linger. Be sure to pick a specific time to revisit the conflict in order to save relationships. 

Facts. Over. Feelings.

 Being too emotional can interfere with my ability to problem-solve. I try to stick to the facts, and connect my emotional reactions to them. 

When handling conflict, presenting facts works because it’s much harder for someone to disregard what I’m saying (in the words of Trey Songz, “she mad at facts, and you can’t be mad at that”).  

I can’t pass my conflicts onto anyone else… 

…despite how much I wanna ‘give it to God’ or a good good girlfriend to handle for me. Yes, Philippians 4:13 is true, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” but here’s the real tea: EYE need to do the “things”, not Christ.

When has idly sitting by ever fixed our problems? Never. No one else can mend our fences. If we truly want to heal, then the work is on us. 

Animation Glow GIF by J.B. Kinard - Find & Share on GIPHY

Don’t run from your pain, honor it. Work through the discomfort of conflict to make it to the other side. Trust me, we’ll be stronger for it. Note to self: it’s not above me, it’s within me

Don’t place blame on anyone 

It’s easy to go in guns-blazing and tell someone about themselves, but that’s the fastest way to a dragging match. 

Instead of telling people “YOU did this” or “YOU are/aren’t that”, focus on yourself. When we replace “you” with “I” while communicating, it implies that we’re taking ownership of our role in conflict. Instead of placing blame, be agreeable while you’re disagreeing. When everyone takes accountability for their own behavior, it becomes easier to have difficult conversations. 

If I dish it out, then I better be able to take it

Remember how easy I said it was to tell someone about themselves? Well, I need to be just as equipped for someone to tell me about myself

Nobody’s perfect. If we jump to criticize people’s behavior, then we should just as quick to accept criticism for ours. When we share our side of the story, we gotta give people a chance to air their side, too. It’s time to thicken our skin, try to understand others’ concerns, and show that we care.

Be direct & intentional

‘If you’re not working toward the solution, then you’re part of the problem’ is how I check myself when dealing with conflict. Simply put, CUT THE BULLSHIT. 

Before any conversation about a conflict, ask yourself, will this bring me closer to getting it resolved? Venting with friends might seem harmless, but it just encourages more mess. (Don’t confuse venting with seeking help on how to approach the person, the latter is perfectly fine.)

Make a point to talk directly with whoever upset you, and get rid of the middle men. Come ready to explain the specific outcome you want–you may not always get it, but the chances are higher if you know how to ask for it. Being direct and intentional with handling conflict can only bring us closer to peace, and shows that we value the relationship. 

Rickey Smiley GIF by TV One - Find & Share on GIPHY

If nothing else, take away this: having conflict isn’t the end of the world, but letting one go unresolved can cause us major problems. 

The key to conflict resolution is to meet people where they are–honoring their wants and needs while advocating for ours. While avoiding conflicts can damage relationships, it’s also important to take care of ourselves. Finding this balance can be a difficult task (I’m still working on this), but it’s worth it in the end if we want healthy relationships. 

So, I challenge us all to embrace the not-so-nice conversations. Let’s man up, put on our big girl panties, and settle some beef! 

Written by: B. Sierra

Leave a Reply