How do you resolve conflict? This is another topic that I talk about often with clients who are struggling to communicate or get along with family members, partners, or just about anyone else.
If you read my post on Boundaries, I briefly discussed different types of communication (passive, aggressive, and assertive). Much like setting boundaries, using assertive communication is your best bet for effectively resolving conflict. Do you find yourself being passive during conflicts? This might look like saying nothing at all, saying anything just to calm the other person, or conceding to the other person just to end the argument even though you still don’t feel good about it. The other extreme is an aggressive style of conflict resolution – screaming, yelling, physical violence, blackmailing, etc. While these approaches might temporarily end the argument, they typically don’t resolve the actual issue that caused the conflict, which leaves you open to having the same argument over and over again in the future.
Assertive communication is the most effective way to resolve conflict. This approach clearly communicates your feelings, wants, needs, and expectations. It also respects the other person’s right to do so. If those involved in the conflict can remain calm and clearly communicate about the issue, they are much more like to understand one another, come to a compromise, and avoid unnecessary escalation of the issue.
So where did you learn your particular conflict resolution style? Most people learn how to do this the same way that we learn most other behaviors – from our “family of origin”. Your family of origin is essentially whoever raised you: parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives, foster parents, etc. As children, we tend to copy the behavior that is modeled for us by adults. This means that you likely approach conflict the way your family of origin did when you were young. Whether your family tried to sweep problems under the rug, had screaming matches, or tried to have sit-down conversations when conflict arose, you likely have carried these same behaviors forward into your adult life – and into all your current relationships.
Problems can arise when you have a very different approach to conflict resolution than with whomever you are in conflict. If your family used assertive communication but your spouse’s family often avoided discussing issues, you and your spouse may have difficulty having an effective conversation about issues because he/she is not used to approaching conflict this way. It’s important not only to understand your conflict resolution style, but also that of the other person. Only then can you work together to practice a healthier, more effective style.
If you still aren’t sure which style you tend to use, here’s a more detailed breakdown of what passive, aggressive, and assertive communication styles look like from the Online Women’s Business Center. If you are not an assertive communicator, you can use this list to practice becoming more assertive.