This post has a workplace orientation but I hope it is also relevant in other contexts.
It is important to remember that most disagreements never escalate into conflict. Usually an event happens, you say something, the other person says, "Oh sorry about that" and both of you are satisfied. What turns a disagreement into a conflict is when you say something and you don't get the response you hoped for. Instead you are ignored, not taken seriously, not listened to, dismissed as trivial, not acknowledged or get what seems to be an over-reaction.One of the key principles to dealing effectively with a conflict situation is to separate your reactions from responses. A reaction is where I don't feel as if I have a choice about what I am saying, feeling or doing whereas when I make a response I have moved to an internal place where I can choose what I say and how I say it.
- In a moment of conflict try to pause - take a breath - in this way you can start to step out of your reaction and move towards a response.
- Pay attention to the other person’s tone. If they are 'out of character' there is probably a reason for this. Try and ask them a neutral question like "I'm not following what you mean, can you say a bit more"
- It is easy to criticise what is not okay about someone else's behaviour, but you also need to think about the positive things that you want (e.g. asking to be treated respectfully)
- If you are feeling really negative you will need to find a way of letting go of some of this. Talk to someone you trust and express lots of your negativity, this can free you to think more creatively.
- Remember that both of you will have your own perspectives and understandings of the situation. If you can, put yourself into the other person's shoes it may help you gain some insight about what action to take.
- Pay attention to power. It is easy to notice the power you don't have in a situation but what are you doing with the power you do have? What influence do you have?
- Everyone in your place of work is busy so you need to make time for a potentially difficult conversation but remember that the earlier you take action the better.
- Don't wait for them to do something - take responsibility for changing the situation.
- Plan what you want to say and then gather your courage. Relax, breathe, write it out if this helps you.
- Go and see them - don't use email or text or phone, do it face to face wherever possible. Be prepared to listen more than you talk.
Dealing with conflict often feels difficult and for many of us it is something we would rather avoid. It takes effort and is sometimes risky but a small stretch out of our comfort zone can sometimes stop a conflict escalating to truly damaging proportions.A version of this article appeared in the Times Educational Supplement