Whenever there is conflict in relationships, be it with a spouse, family member, friend, boss, or co-worker, it follows that effective communication stops, or at least becomes strained. Yet, it is only through communication that we can overcome conflict.
When we are in conflict, our brain perceives it as a threat, so our basic instinct to protect ourselves gets triggered. Our body prepares itself to either fight or bolt. Our breathing becomes shallow and quicker. Complex decision-making disappears, as does our ability to think clearly and see different perspectives. What do we do when our body’s natural protective responses have overtaken us and the last thing we want to do is communicate?
- Step back and take a breath. Quite literally. Breathing deeply, smoothly and rhythmically allows our body to override the automatic fight or flight response, and restores our brain’s ability to think clearly and regain perspective.
- Listen. Instead of launching verbal vollies at the other person, which only escalates the situation and puts the other person on the defensive, make every effort to really listen to them.
- Get personal support. A trusted friend or family member can be a huge source of help, and can provide that necessary calming influence, putting things in perspective.
- Get professional support. A counselor can help us understand our own role in the conflict and support us to develop effective ways to manage the conflict and communicate responsibly so that our voice is heard in the situation. A mediator can assist to neutralize the conflict, help all sides understand one another’s perspectives, and find long term solutions to the conflict.
- Have compassion - for yourself and for others. Kindness always goes further than harsh words and creates longer-lasting relationships with better outcomes.
It is possible to have healthy conflict in relationships - in fact, we are designed to be in conflict with each other at times - the challenging part is to see another’s perspective while making good decisions for our own lives. Only then can we move forward and learn.