Have you ever wondered why some people seem to thrive on conflict while others avoid it at all costs? What makes us react differently to situations that involve disagreement, tension, or opposition? How can we understand and manage our own and others’ emotions when conflict arises?

Conflict is inevitable in human relationships

Whether it’s with our family, friends, co-workers, or strangers, we are bound to encounter situations where our needs, values, goals, or opinions clash with those of others. Conflict can be a source of stress, frustration, anger, resentment, or even violence. But it can also be an opportunity for growth, learning, creativity, and collaboration.

How we approach and handle conflict depends on several factors, such as:

Our personalities

Some people are more assertive, confident, or competitive than others. They may enjoy challenging others or expressing their views openly. Others are more passive, cooperative, or accommodating. They may prefer to avoid confrontation or compromise their needs for the sake of harmony.

Our emotions

Conflict can trigger strong emotions in us and others. We may feel hurt, threatened, offended, or betrayed by someone’s words or actions. We may also feel guilty, ashamed, or embarrassed by our own behaviour. How we regulate and express our emotions can affect how we cope with conflict and how others perceive us.

Our beliefs

We all have beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world that shape our expectations and interpretations of reality. We may believe that we are right and others are wrong, that we are superior or inferior to others, that conflict is good or bad, that people are trustworthy or not, etc. These beliefs can influence how we approach and resolve conflict.

Our goals

We all have goals that motivate us to act in certain ways. We may have personal goals (such as achieving success, happiness, or fulfilment), relational goals (such as maintaining or improving a relationship), or social goals (such as contributing to a group or cause). Depending on our goals, we may adopt different strategies for dealing with conflict.

Our context

The situation and environment in which conflict occurs can also affect how we respond to it. We may consider factors such as the importance of the issue, the power dynamics between the parties, the time and resources available, the potential consequences of the outcome, etc. These factors can influence how much we invest in the conflict and what we are willing to do to resolve it.

Given these factors, it is not surprising that conflict can be complex and challenging to deal with. However, there are some general principles and skills that can help us navigate conflict more effectively and positively. Here are some of them:

Recognize and acknowledge the conflict

The first step is to acknowledge that there is a conflict and that it needs to be addressed. Ignoring or avoiding conflict can make it worse or lead to resentment or misunderstanding. By recognizing the conflict, we can also identify its source and nature and decide how to approach it.

Manage your emotions

Conflict can evoke strong emotions in us and others. While emotions are natural and valid responses to conflict, they can also cloud our judgement and interfere with our communication. Therefore, it is important to manage our emotions before engaging in conflict resolution. This means being aware of what we are feeling and why, calming ourselves down if we are too angry or upset, expressing our emotions appropriately and respectfully, and being empathetic to others’ emotions.

Listen actively

Listening is a key skill for effective communication and conflict resolution. Listening means paying attention to what the other person is saying, verbally and nonverbally, without interrupting or judging them. It also means asking questions to clarify their message, summarizing what we understood them to say, and acknowledging their feelings and perspectives. By listening actively, we can show respect and interest in the other person and gain a better understanding of their needs and concerns.

Communicate assertively

Communicating assertively means expressing our thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly and respectfully, without being aggressive or passive. It also means respecting the thoughts, feelings, and needs of others, without agreeing or disagreeing with them. By communicating assertively, we can avoid misunderstandings and conflicts and build trust and rapport with others.

Seek common ground

Seeking common ground means finding areas of agreement or shared interest with the other person or party. It also means focusing on the problem or issue rather than on the person or position. By seeking common ground, we can reduce hostility and defensiveness and increase cooperation and collaboration with others.

Generate options

Generating options means brainstorming possible solutions or alternatives to the conflict or problem. It also means being creative and flexible and considering the pros and cons of each option. By generating options, we can expand our choices and find win-win outcomes that satisfy both parties needs and interests.

Negotiate fairly

Negotiating fairly means reaching an agreement or compromise that is acceptable and beneficial to both parties. It also means being honest and respectful and honouring the agreement or compromise. By negotiating fairly, we can positively resolve the conflict or problem. These tips and strategies can help us deal with conflict more effectively and positively. However, they are not always easy to apply in practice.

We may face challenges such as:

– Resistance from ourselves or others;

– Lack of skills or confidence;

– Emotional triggers or biases;

– Cultural differences or misunderstandings;

– Power imbalances or inequalities;

Therefore, it is important to practice these skills regularly and seek feedback from others. We may also need to seek help from a third party, such as a mediator, a counsellor, or a friend if the conflict is too difficult or complex to handle by ourselves.

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Ahmed Elsaadani is a psychosexual and relationship therapist offering psychotherapy to individuals and couples who face problems in their sexual life due to psychological impact or relational problems. He is in training with a London diploma in psychosexual and relationship therapy.