It took me quite a while to figure out why the block button was my best friend: I hated conflict.
Difficult conversations made me uncomfortable, so I tried my best to avoid them. Even if that meant blocking people and leaving them for dead. It wasn't right, but it was how I coped and it left me wondering how many relationships could've been saved through effective conflict resolution.
That thought alone made me want to be better, if not for others, then certainly for myself. So, instead of running—and blocking—I committed to facing things head-on. It was rocky at first; I took things personally, was wildly defensive, and kept stumbling back to my old ways. But the more I kept at it—confronting issues and actively listening to others—the more I realized that conflict is normal. In fact, it can be healthy. What makes it effective and most meaningful is how we handle it.
Dealing with conflict in the following ways has helped my relationships flourish and has taught me about myself.
Understand What The Real Issue Is.
Have you ever been (what seems to be) irrationally mad about a minor offense? Are you ever confused about why you're so sad or upset about something your friend or partner did? Truly, the most frustrating part about addressing conflict is being angry but not knowing or understanding why.
Is it that you weren't invited or is that you feel neglected and you need more attention? Is it that the text offended you or is that it triggered an insecurity that you hadn't yet resolved? Is his behavior that offensive, or does it remind you of someone you have a bad history with?
More times than not, the problem you're upset about isn't the actual problem—it's a trigger. There's something deeper that lies within. Taking the time to think through things is critical for addressing whatever the real problem might be. The clearer you are about the problem, the better you can communicate and resolve it. Don't fly off the handle just yet, take time to actually dissect your emotions and come to terms with what the real problem is.
To start, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Why does this upset me?
- What other feelings am I experiencing from this? Why?
- What about this offense affects me the most?
- What will help me get past this?
Oftentimes when I've reflected in this way, I realized the problem was me, not them. But in the case that it is them, understanding why you feel the way you do—and what the true offense is—will help you communicate it. And we all know that communication is key.
Speak To The Person Directly.
The first thing I say in response to someone complaining about a friend, loved one, or lover is, "Well, have you told them yet?"
Speaking directly with the person who hurt you allows them an immediate opportunity to clear up the infraction before internal thoughts and outside perceptions begin to cloud your judgment. I know some people just need to vent, but I also know how unconstructive those vent sessions could be if you never find time to address the problem with the offender. I always recommend speaking directly with the person first to limit interference and further irritation.
When we're heavy in emotions, it's easy to assume the worst intentions. But before you start pointing fingers, try asking questions. This helps to alleviate loads of miscommunication and misperceptions. It also allows them a chance to respond to your inquiry without feeling attacked and becoming defensive.
- "I realized you didn't invite me to the group happy hour, did you mean to do that?"
- "[Name] told me you were speaking badly about me, is that true?"
- "You promised to help me with my project but didn't. What happened?"
A simple question can change the course of the conversation (and conflict). Reducing assumptions is the saving grace for many relationships and can also keep you from getting wound up about something that was not intended to harm you.
Don’t Let It Fester.
While it's important to think through the emotions and establish your best course of action, it's also important to not let it sit too long. Don't dismiss issues that bother you. Don't wait until they build up. It's OK to think about how to best approach the situation, but don't downplay the offense so long that the other person doesn't realize it was an offense in the first place. Honor how you feel, explore the root of the problem, but then address it—sooner rather than later.
Aim For A Solution.
Conversations with no end goal or solutions can be frustrating. There's nothing worse than going to a meeting that doesn't offer next steps. Similarly, venting to a friend and ending the conversation with no sound advice can be equally annoying. After addressing the problem, talking through the slew of emotions, and hearing each other out, it's so important to attempt to resolve the problem. This might mean providing tips for how they might be a better friend for you or how you might approach the conflict next time. Whatever the solutions are, be sure to think through and present them. After all, it's called conflict resolution for a reason.
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