If there are no ups and downs in your life, it means you are dead. The truth is that no matter what, all relationships–whether they are with our family, coworkers, friends or spouses–will and should experience conflict simply as a fact of life. Resolving conflict is a necessary skill set for everyone. Here are some tips to help you handle conflict in your life.
Tip #1: Realize that Conflict is Normal and Necessary. In fact, Dr. John Gottman, PhD, who has been researching relationships for over 40 years, has found that it is not the presence of conflict that is damaging but the way in which conflict is handled. He found that the “Magic Ratio”: is 5-1. That means that for every negative interaction, happy couples will have 5 positive ones.
Tip #2: Take a Deep Breath. When a person’s heart rate reaches 100 beats per minute, they are unable to hear anything the other person says. By simply just breathing you allow necessary oxygen to slow down the amygdala which in turn “jump starts’ the prefrontal cortex or the side of your brain that comes up with the plans and problem solving and allow you to make more rational decisions.
Tip #3: Face each other when talking. Researchers found that simply maintaining eye contact made the biggest impact from changing a negative interaction to a positive one. Nonverbal behavior is the primary mode in which emotion is communicated. Facial expression, eye gaze, tone of voice, bodily motion, and the timing of responses are fundamental to emotional messages.
Tip #4: Mentally Recite Positive Attributes. All of us have a natural tendency to overemphasize the negative and underappreciate the positive. It is far easier to be critical than positive so amidst conflict, it can be helpful to remember positive attributes, characteristics or experiences that can balance and counter the at times overwhelming flood of negative emotions. For instance, upon finding a spouse’s is late, you can remember that they work hard to provide, are really good at playing games with the kids, picking shows to binge watch on Netflix or another experience that has made you smile in the past. Being grateful for the positive allows you to address conflict in a more realistic approach to the issue at hand instead of making mountains out of mole hills.
Tip #5: Use a Softened Start Up Approach. Gottman’s research has found that 96% of the time, the way a discussion begins can predict the way it will end. When one person begins the discussion with a harsh startup- being negative, accusatory or using contempt–the discussion is basically doomed to fail. On the other hand, when a person begins a discussion using a softened startup, the discussion will most likely end on the same positive tone. For Example:
Harsh Start Up :”You never have time for me!”
Softened Start Up: “I have been missing you lately.”
Tip #6: Limit criticizing and condemning language. What is it that you are hoping to achieve or what is it that you are wanting to communicate? Messages are often lost when language is critical or condemning: (“You always, or you never…”). Set ground rules in your relationship such as no name calling, no threatening divorce etc. and be cognizant of the the language that you are using. Language can be like the lighter fluid thrown on a smoldering fire- causing the fire to escalate out of control. Remember the goal is to face the challenge and work to put an end to the conflict rather than escalate it. Just because a thought goes through your head doesn’t mean it needs to come out of your mouth.
Tip #7: First seek to understand, then be understood. This golden rule of communication is key in being able to resolve conflict and promote change. Simply listening is a powerful tool in resolving conflict. “People start to heal the moment that they feel heard.” (Cheryl Richardson). Ask yourself, what is it that they want me to understand? When you get into a conflict, try and see the conflict as if you were a fly on the ceiling. Often, underneath the discussion of the conflict, someone is asking for more emotional connection. See if you can understand where they are coming from. “Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”(Thomas S. Monson).
While conflict is a normal part of life, these tips can help you navigate and successfully handle the challenges you face together and strengthen your relationships. Practically speaking, share these tips with the ones you love and the ones you have the most conflict with 😉 and watch your ability to handle conflict improve!