Most people try to avoid conflict, but it’s inevitable: You want spaghetti, he wants tacos. You chose a new car as the next business investment, while your partner would have preferred a new website. Your husband wants to go to Hawaii for vacation, but you’d rather tour the glaciers in Alaska. You like the room temperature set at 68 degrees, but your officemates want it kept at 72.

Confronting tension or disagreement is much healthier than avoiding it. But what if the conflict is your fault, or right in front of you, and is desperately in need of an answer and resolution?

Here are some ideas for dealing with conflict.

  • If the conflict is your fault, fess up. Be big enough to admit your mistakes and ask for forgiveness if necessary. Many of us have been raised in a sea of praise from parents and teachers, so we have a strong perfectionist tendency and need for affirmation. As a result, facing conflict—just recognizing that it exists!—can be difficult. Not having someone else’s approval is uncomfortable in the first place, and the conflict only heightens a sense of failure and shame for not performing up to the standard. Be aware of this, but don’t let it stop you.
  • Deal with the conflict in person. So many of us are accustomed to communicating via text or Facebook messages, but conflict needs to be handled in person. It may be uncomfortable, but it will work so much better if you talk out your disagreement.
  • Find neutral territory in which to discuss the conflict. If the disagreement is about how you organized the kitchen, go to a coffeehouse with your roommate to discuss the situation. (A public place also makes heated conversations safer—generally, people will act more civilly with you if they know people are watching!)
  • Give it time. Many of us live with a sense of urgency and immediacy, exacerbated by our technological environment. But you’ll have to recognize that the conflict might not end after one conversation. Give the other person time to think or for their heart to heal.
  • Ask others you trust and respect for advice (without gossiping, complaining or trying to win this person to your side of the argument). We often don’t want to trust anyone other than our peers, but sometimes they don’t have enough life experience to give accurate advice. Be willing to get counsel from someone who has lived twice as long as you—and to then consider that advice.
  • Focus on the other person and not just yourself. Try to be empathetic. Everyone from Francis of Assisi to Stephen Covey encouraged people to seek first to understand, then to be understood. Listening first and asking clarifying questions can help you understand the other person’s situation and perspective in the conflict.
  • Listen for the person’s interests, not just their positions. Sometimes what the person is asking for (their position) isn’t a clear statement of their underlying interests (what they really want). Seek a win-win. Conflict often can be resolved by finding higher alternatives that help you both reach your interests and desired outcomes.

Two great books on this topic are Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High and Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

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