With our current political climate being so tense and divisive, it can be challenging to have a constructive discussion with those who have opinions that differ from ours. Even if it’s not political, we’ve all had arguments with family, friends, significant others, and coworkers — whether they’re small-scale disagreements or longstanding and deeply rooted ones.
Being able to resolve disagreements is a crucial part of forming and maintaining healthy relationships. It’s a given that we’re going to disagree with those we are close to — we are all unique with our own opinions, expectations, histories, dreams and fears, so at some point, we’re bound to disagree on something. Being able to resolve conflict, however, ensures that you are able to maintain or even strengthen your relationship with healthy, balanced communication, rather than letting it drive you apart.
Here are some simple tips for good communication habits to use when you are faced with conflict:
Remember that it’s not a competition
If you approach an argument as something you have to “win,” you are more likely to view the person you are disagreeing with as your opponent or enemy. When this happens, it sets up an us vs. them mentality that makes it more about proving to the other person that you are right or wearing them down into agreeing with you.
Instead of viewing the conflict as a competition, try to see it more as a discussion or conversation. Yes, it may be a discussion about a tough or divisive topic, but deliberately choosing to frame it as a conversation helps to increase your chances of successfully resolving the disagreement rather than it just becoming about winning.
In other words, if either side “wins” at the expense of the other, no one in the relationship really wins because the conversation has created distance rather than togetherness or shared understanding.
Aim for understanding
Instead of trying to prove your point or win the argument, focus on understanding the other person’s perspective. This doesn’t mean that you necessarily need to agree with the other person. Your goal is to understand their perception of the issue and their concerns. Ask questions and be curious about what they have to say. Not only will you gain insight into their perspective, which will help you find a resolution, but it will also help the other person feel heard and understood (which will also go a long way towards finding a workable resolution together).
Stay on topic
As tempting as it might be to bring past hurts into the conversation, it’s important to stay on topic. This can be challenging to do when emotions are high but it helps keep the focus on resolving the current disagreement and not something that happened last week or last year. It only distracts from your goal, which is to resolve the current issue. Plus, it can increase negative feelings and animosity, which can make it hard for you to come together to try to resolve the conflict.
Watch your language
It’s also important to be mindful of the language you use when trying to resolve the conflict. For example, name-calling is never helpful. Similar to what can happen when you bring up past hurts or issues, name-calling only increases defensiveness and hurt feelings. While it may feel good in the moment, name-calling isn’t likely to help in the long-term and may just keep you stuck in an endless cycle of arguing about the same things over and over again.
Avoid sweeping statements like “you always…” or “you never…” Not only are they most likely not entirely accurate, they close down communication paths and can make someone feel defensive instead of open to finding a resolution.
Know when to walk away
If things do get too heated, don’t be afraid to table the discussion temporarily and take a break until you’ve both had time to cool off. If the conversation gets too tense, finding a workable resolution might just be out of reach. Stepping away to regroup gives you both a chance to put everything back into perspective so that you can come together and continue the conversation. Just make sure that you don’t avoid returning to the conversation — avoiding it will only ensure it will re-emerge later.