Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
Written By: DiveThru Team
Reviewed By: Natalie Asayag MSW, LCSW
When we think about conflict we usually think of a heated argument. You know, the hands gesturing wildly, the raised voices, the forehead vein popping. It might be an emotionally charged argument, where we see people resorting to judgmental remarks or inappropriate comments. Naturally, there is also an opposite side to that spectrum where we might see the silent treatment and the passive-aggressive behaviour. By the end of this article, you will know how to work through a fight with at least 5 effective strategies.
Some of you are picturing work-related conflicts while others are revisiting a few harsh words exchanged with friends or family. Before we dive any further, there’s one thing we need to get straight.
Conflict is natural. It’s as natural as being attracted to Chris Evans’ gentlemanly charisma or impeccable character. Sorry not sorry, we love our Avengers here at DiveThru.
But back to conflict. It’s a product of friction (and/or tension), and that product is not always negative. In fact, it’s what challenges our current state and helps us move forward. In the great words of Bill Nye The Science Guy, without friction we wouldn’t be able to walk.
That’s as far as my knowledge of physics goes so maybe we’ll stop with the metaphors there.
The important thing to take away is that disagreement is sometimes a key ingredient in challenging our current perspectives. The better equipped we are to understand the nature of conflict, the more capable we are to come out of it in a better place.
When we talk about Interpersonal Conflict, we refer specifically to the issues arising between two or more people. When we speak about internal conflict, we call it Intrapersonal Conflict.
Today, we’re diving thru the first. Let’s get to it.
Before diving thru strategies to work through interpersonal conflict, we need to identify which type we are dealing with. This will help you get a better understanding of the root of the issue and it can help shape the resolution itself. According to healthline, there are 6 types:
This type of conflict is usually based in misunderstanding. The issue will brim when the individuals involved are making judgments without seeing the full picture or having all the details. More often than not, pseudo conflict can be resolved with a further explanation of what the parties actually mean. However, pseudo conflict could also be a result of badgering, mocking or taunting of one party.
This one is pretty straightforward! It’s a conflict that arises from the facts that are being shared. The simplest way to solve these arguments is to check a reliable source that has the answer for you.
Your friend is adamant that tomatoes are a vegetable but you KNOW for a fact that they are a fruit.
How do you figure it out? Turn to the google machine!
A little harder to figure out than the first two, this type of conflict revolves around personal values and belief systems. A difference of opinion, especially on sensitive topics, can result in disagreement and arguments.
The best thing to do in these situations is explain your point of view while respecting the other person’s perspective. Acknowledging that there is a difference in your values can be the best way to move forward, even if no agreement has been reached.
We see this type of conflict surface around religion, cultural practices, healthcare practices, and many, many, many other social issues.
When your approach to problem-solving differs vastly from another person’s, policy conflict can arise. This type of conflict stops us from moving forward with an action plan because we can’t all agree on what that plan should be.
Take healthcare for example. Our approach in Canada to public healthcare differs so greatly from the United States’ privatized system. The same problems exist but the two nations have chosen different approaches to solving them.
Not all Canadians are on board with public healthcare and not all Americans agree with a privatized system. We have no doubt that policy conflict has played out in both countries because of that.
[quick flashback to your last holiday dinner party and the discussions going on at the table?]
As the name suggests, our egos are at risk with this type of conflict. As an argument escalates, some people will turn to judgmental remarks and find ways to make it personal.
In other cases, people will refuse to lose an argument (even though they know they’re wrong) because the loss would mean an insult to their intelligence.
We all have that one friend in our lives who looooves to argue. We might have even learned our lesson to not start an argument with them because they always win anyways.
What we don’t think about is that our loves-to-argue pal might tie their identity close to this ability to “win” arguments. Their ego may play a bigger role in the situation than we’ve prepared for.
An argument about the way we argue. Have you ever been so fed up with how your friend approaches your conflicts that you decide to pause the argument and argue about how you argue? A quick example we can give is the use of extremes:
“You always walk away.”
“You never listen to what I have to say.”
This is called a meta conflict. Because communication plays a key role in resolving conflicts, voicing your concerns about how someone approaches arguments is healthy.
What’s not healthy is doing it in the heat of the moment and without reproach. When these emotions bubble over, communication becomes muddy and we may lose sight of the bigger goal.
We talked about friction and tension earlier and now we’re going to expand on that a bit.
In their book Everyday Encounters, Julia Wood and Ann Schweitzer take a closer look at interpersonal conflict. What actually causes it? Why don’t we just accept each other’s differences for what they are, without conflict?
One of the points they make is that differences don’t lead to conflict unless we feel the need to reconcile that tension (p. 266).
Can we have totally different goals, preferences or decisions? Absolutely. Will it lead to interpersonal conflict? Not unless those preferences affect us.
The best way to think about it is like this.
Say you and your friend have super different preferences when it comes to pets. She’s a dog person and you love all members of the furry species but currently have a cat. Is this bound to create conflict at the moment? Nope, it doesn’t really affect either of you.
Now say you two are thinking of moving in together. You’re stoked about it! And she’s stoked about it too until she finds out you would be keeping your cat. Your friend isn’t too keen on the idea of living with a cat so she asks you to give it up.
See how this could turn into conflict? Both of you are now affected by preferences.
There are countless reasons and causes for interpersonal conflict, both personal and professional. Here’s a list of examples but keep in mind this is not exhaustive in any way:
Honestly, you may not always see a straightforward path out of the argument or conversation you’re in. That’s okay. Keep in mind that communication — the clear and open kind — is the best way to move forward through conflict.
Below are 5 categories that your resolution will most likely fall in. Take a look at these strategies and think about which one you tend to default to.
This is also known as an avoidance strategy, where you dodge the problem and walk away from the situation. By withdrawing yourself from the argument, you sidestep the conflict itself and avoid confrontation or discussion.
Withdrawal is both useful AND problematic. There are situations where walking away is the best thing to do — think unimportant conflict, and conflict where emotions are running way too high. There are also situations where withdrawal is problematic. It can result in passive-aggressive behaviour, overly sarcastic comments, and an overuse of the silent treatment. While withdrawal can help some forms of conflict, it can also have a serious effect on relationships.
The strategy here is to put someone else’s needs above your own. You’ll hear a lot of people refer to this strategy as “being the bigger person.” Just like Withdrawal, this strategy is also dependent on the situation itself. If you concede every argument for the sake of the other person, your own needs won’t be met. A good balance is needed. Be the bigger person but don’t forget to also be your own advocate.
People engage in this strategy when they’re pushing their own perspective forward in an effort to persuade others. When manipulation or aggression is used, this strategy causes negative effects on relationships. However, when these tactics are not used, competition can be a respectful and positive way to resolve conflict.
Compromise involves a little losing and a little winning for both parties. On the one hand, you’ve actually reached an agreement and you’re no longer in conflict. Not only that, but you also got some of what you wanted, which is better than nothing.
On the other hand, is a fraction of what you wanted enough to keep you happy? Because both parties are giving something up now, the conflict may be stirred up again in the future.
Is compromise the best way to solve conflict? It’s a good strategy but not the best. Keep reading.
A true win-win situation means everyone got the resolution they set out for. Sound a little far-fetched? It’s actually not!
The key is to look at the problem as something you need to solve together, as opposed to individually. Instead of fighting for your solution to be the best solution, you’re just fighting for the best solution. Period. That could be your idea or your partner’s idea. It could be something you came up with together. It could also be something your friend mentioned in passing.
Communication, and particularly active listening, is crucial for this strategy to work.
You’ve officially unlocked a deeper understanding of conflict! Therapists around the world are tossing their notepads and jumping for joy! Jk but I promise you they’re super proud right now.
Now let’s dive thru 5 ways you can use your newfound knowledge in a practical way.
Make sure you have this really important conversation in person. We know how easy it is to text out a paragraph and list out your frustrations instead but trust, that’s not the best way.
Nobody wants to see those three little dots blink on while their friend types up an essay. You’ll miss out on the body language that needs to accompany these convos.
Choose somewhere less public to talk about your conflict. Emotions can surface unexpectedly and people watching you ugly cry in a busy cafe adds unnecessary stress to the conversation.
Likewise, time is important. Stay away from having these convos right before you have to go to work or complete a really important assignment. Think about the other person’s schedule as well and choose a time that’s best for both of you.
If you’re hoping for this to be a productive conversation (which, duh, why wouldn’t you), then you need to acknowledge how the other person feels.
How do you do that? Through active listening. Entire research papers have been written on the matter but here are some quick notes:
Listen without judgment or interruption.
Use open body language.
Check to make sure you’re understanding the speaker correctly by repeating what you heard and paraphrasing it.
Ask open-ended questions.
Limit how much of your own experiences you share and listen to theirs instead.
Try to stay focused on the issue you’re dealing with and not the person who brought it to you. It’s a lot easier said than done, we know.
When emotions bubble up during conflict, it can be difficult to process them quickly and respond appropriately. Stay away from the temptation to make things personal or point out other flaws unrelated to the conflict. If you concentrate on figuring out the problem, you’re more likely to come together in devising a solution.
Resentment, anger and frustration can build over time on issues that are ignored. Instead of letting the conflict fester into a monster of frustration, address it early. Save the strain on your relationship, whether personal or professional, and discuss the issues that need to be heard.
We have dedicated much time to the research behind journaling therapy and the result? A hefty list of benefits + our DiveThru method! One of those benefits is the ability to resolve interpersonal problems. Journaling helps you clarify your thoughts and feelings, which in turn can help you see a different perspective. Journal first, talk after.
Carefully and thoughtfully crafted, the DiveThru method encourages users to take charge of their mental wellbeing through guided journaling. See for yourself why journaling therapy can make a huge difference in both mental and physical wellbeing. (And feel free to take our app for a spin! You can download DiveThru for free!)
There are a few things that are guaranteeeeeeeed to make the situation worse. Don’t worry, we’ve all been guilty of one or two of these ourselves. According to healthline, these are the pitfalls to avoid when it comes to interpersonal conflict:
Arguments can reach a point of hostility, despite best efforts to prevent it. Things like personal insults, criticisms of the other person’s character that are unrelated to the argument, defensiveness, aggressive behaviour like shouting or verbal abuse — they’re all going to do more harm than good. Steer clear of this behaviour. If you encounter it from the other party, make the choice to step away from the argument and revisit it another day.
This is a term that describes one person’s withdrawal from the conflict while the other person is trying to address it. Constantly changing the subject or ignoring the conflict altogether will lead to resentment and frustration from the individual who’s trying to make themselves heard.
When one person responds to the argument by redirecting blame to the other, it results in accusations. These usually end with frustration and anger. One thing that’s recommended in this situation is “I” statements. Instead of saying “You never wash the dishes,” you can try saying “I have a hard time when you don’t wash the dishes.” Share your perspective, but without the blame.
You know those issues that are not related to the current argument but they’ve been bugging you forever? The ones you’ve been suppressing and bottling up because you’ve just been picking your battles? Don’t let them come up now. Cross-complaining will lead you down the rabbit hole and escalate the conflict unnecessarily. Set aside a different time to talk about those other problems that have been weighing you down.
This is like your favourite Netflix series, except not. We’re talking about the arguments that never actually get resolved because we walk away from the conversation. Either it becomes too much to handle or it gets too heated, but it has now turned into a 3 volume series of stressful reality TV.
You need a new approach. Continuing down this path will wear down both parties involved because it will continue to come up again and again and again. Switch your strategy so that you can resolve it before it becomes insurmountable.
YOU GOT THIS! We sincerely believe in your ability to work through interpersonal conflicts and now you’ve got some strategies under your belt.
Don’t forget to process your own thoughts and emotions first before engaging someone else into the conversation. If you need help with that, you know where to find us! We live in the app store and we’re looking forward to saying hello.