Everyone has conflict with another person at some point in their lives – and more realistically, everyone has conflict with another person at some point each week. It’s normal to have conflict with coworkers, friends, family members, even partners. Conflict is a healthy part of a relationship when it is handled intentionally and respectfully.
What is conflict resolution?
Conflict resolution occurs when two or more people handle a conflict or disagreement with empathy, compassion, and patience. Not everyone will get their way when the conflict reaches a point of resolution, but everyone will feel heard, understood, and considered. When the conflict resolution process is done in a healthy way, disagreements can actually bring people closer.
It can be difficult for many people to engage in conflict. This includes standing up or advocating for themselves. It can also include setting boundaries or letting others know that they’ve crossed a boundary. It takes a level of vulnerability to share that you’re uncomfortable or distressed by someone else’s words, actions, or ideas, which is why many people find themselves struggling to resolve conflict effectively.
Origin of conflict issues
There are many reasons why people may have conflict issues that make it difficult to work or live with those around them. Often, people who have difficulty with conflict had a complex relationship with conflict or disagreements as children. They may have watched their caretakers or loved ones fight and learned their behaviors. They may have seen adults around them handle conflicts with passive aggression, shouting, or harmful behaviors. Without knowing how else to disagree with someone else, these children grow up to be adults that either shy away from conflict or engage in conflict from a place of defensiveness.
Many conflicts, especially those in the workplace but also those at home, stem from a power imbalance. It can be especially stressful to stand up to someone who has more power than you, even when you know that they’re in the wrong. This can be further exacerbated if the feedback isn’t communicated clearly. In fact, miscommunication is a huge reason why many people have conflict – and find that resolving that conflict is terribly difficult.
Signs of conflict issues
There’s a wide spectrum of ways that conflict issues manifest in daily life. Some people find themselves becoming timid, frozen, or disengaged when there’s a disagreement – even if it’s something that they really care about. Others become impassioned, animated, and combative with their arguments. Here are a few signs that may indicate that you have an issue with conflict:
- You avoid the person that you disagree with, even small talk about topics other than the issue
- You find yourself constantly thinking of what your next arguments and counterarguments will be, without even engaging in conversation with that person
- You feel overly anxious when you think about confronting the person
- You’ve talked about how much you disagree with that person to your friends and family, without having approached them
- You make self-judgements based on your reaction to the conflict, including negative self-talk
Conflict makes many people uncomfortable, especially when there are face-to-face confrontations about an issue. Likely, both or all sides feel this discomfort and that’s why it’s important to handle conflict intentionally and collaboratively.
Conflict resolution in therapy
Many therapists specialize in helping their clients build strong conflict resolution skills. Therapists teach their clients effective communication skills, such as how to express needs or boundaries, how to be appropriately vulnerable in difficult conversations, or how to frame feedback or criticism so that it doesn’t get taken the wrong way. Therapists will also encourage their clients to be introspective about the reasons behind why the conflict bothers them. The client may use a values clarification exercise to determine why they feel uneasy about a situation.
Besides skill-building, therapists are there to hold space for your thoughts and feelings. While they may share helpful perspectives with you or encourage you to take a more objective approach to the issue, your therapist is a cheerleader who will be there for you throughout the process of resolution.