Conflict is a normal part of any relationship as our needs and preferences can often clash with the needs and preferences of someone else. The crucial factor when conflict arises is how we go about resolving it. When resolved well we can grow and understand ourselves and others better. Yet if conflict isn’t resolved well, this can lead to bitterness and distance in our relationships.
Two key factors to resolving conflict well are:
1. Understanding what caused the conflict
Our anger towards someone is just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath are one or more emotions like feeling hurt, rejected, jealous and threatened. It’s helpful to identify what lies beneath so that we can communicate to the other person the reason we’re angry and how their behaviour has made us feel. It is important to avoid communicating our feelings as “you made me feel…” as this blaming response can cause them to become defensive, a barrier in resolving the issue. Instead say “I feel …”
2. Kind Communication
Four unhealthy responses
John Gottman, a relationship researcher and expert, found there are four ways of unhealthily responding to conflict:
Criticism – Attacking someone for who they are i.e their character e.g. “You’re annoying”
Contempt – Communicating to someone that they are worthless through mocking, mimicking and disrespect e.g. rolling your eyes when someone is speaking or talking over the top of them.
Defensiveness – Failing to take responsibility for our part in the conflict e.g. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I haven’t done anything wrong!”
Stonewalling – Shutting down and refusing to engage in resolving the conflict e.g. ignoring, turning or walking away from someone.
To counteract these 4 conflict escalators Gottman encourages the following 4 antidotes:
Criticism Antidote – Communicate your feelings and needs instead of criticising.
Contempt Antidote – Think of the things you appreciate about the other person.
Defensiveness Antidote – Accept the other person’s view of the fight and apologise for your part in it.
Stonewalling Antidote – Take a time out and pick a distraction and/or self soothing activity.
Gottman, J. M. (2008). Gottman method couple therapy. Clinical handbook of couple therapy, 4(8), 138-164.