Conflict refers to a disagreement or argument. It’s when desires or intentions are misaligned and things clash. Conflict is a normal part of life and so conflict in work or home life is often unavoidable. Tensions in home or work life are more common when everyone’s stress levels are raised, when there is change or uncertainty or when people are grappling with big and challenging life events. Conflict can also occur between people for more personal reasons. 

It’s important to distinguish between conflict and bullying or harassing behaviour. If differences are handled in a responsible and compassionate way, with effective communication and respect, then conflict can lead to growth and positive outcomes. Conflict can even help in building better relationships, making better decisions and finding new solutions. 

However, if the conflict leads to undermining, intimidating, threatening or other types of abusive or harassing behaviour, then it’s not on. In such cases, this behaviour needs to be addressed, by the individuals and organisation involved, in order to protect peoples’ wellbeing and safety.

common sources of conflict

  • Values and beliefs
  • Expectations
  • Communication styles
  • Personality differences
  • Feelings that status or competency is being questioned or challenged
  • Feeling on the ‘outer’, where others have aligned together

For example, your bandmate or workmate might have a different understanding of your role or a different expectation about how things should be done. This leads to one of you becoming resentful. 

Or one of you might avoid conflict at all costs, while the other believes in ‘clearing the air’. This leads to a misunderstanding about what is an appropriate way to resolve the conflict. 

It’s easy to personalise conflict and often feels like someone is coming for you, however when we become mindful of our emotional reactions in the face of conflict, we can get better at separating ourself from the problem at hand, and not take things so personally. 

Tips to defuse conflict

  • Address conflict as soon as it arises. If not, it will fester, distort, and become way more problematic
  • Keep discussion of the issue brief (around 10-15min) and take a time out afterwards, to keep stress levels in check and avoid a full on blow up
  • Focus on the facts at hand. Stay away from assumptions, and avoid over-personalising
  • Respect that each person needs time to speak and be heard
  • Use language that is empathetic and relaxed. Make an effort to see the conflict from the other person’s point of view, e.g. “I understand how challenging this must be for you.”
  • Focus on finding common ground
  • Discuss how future conflict can be defused in periods of cooperation and connection (so there is a go-to strategy when tensions arise)

Before you talk with the other person

Spend a moment putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Research shows that we tend to assume the worst when it comes to other peoples’ intentions and actions. It may be hard if you are feeling negatively toward the other person, but if you stop and think, there are often other reasons that people act the way they do. It may have little or nothing to do with you it may be more about what is happening to them. 

This works much better than criticising or blaming the other person (no matter how much your emotions are screaming out for an attack). Practice it first, for example…
– Benefit of doubt “You may not realise you are doing this, but …
Describe behaviour “Lately it seems to me that you have been speaking rather abruptly to me on the phone”
– I” statement “I wanted to let you know that it makes it difficult for me to be open with you and it upsets me. “
– Request “I would appreciate it if you would keep this in mind next time we talk.”

– Stick to the current concern. Don’t drag previous conflicts or a whole mountain of issues into the discussion
– Concentrate on listening to their point of view and verbally acknowledge it. “So you are saying….”
– Call for a time out if the discussion gets too heated, or get the advice of a counsellor or professional mediator
– Be prepared to compromise. Some of us find it hard when other people don’t not agree with our opinion, especially when we are convinced we are right. What is the worst that can happen if you have to give up being the “right” one and compromise? Think of some areas of the situation where you could give some ground

Ok.. what now?

If the conflict cannot be resolved in an effective way, or if it leads to any form of abusive behaviour, then outside assistance may be helpful. Abusive behaviour includes discrimination, workplace bullying/harassment, sexual harassment. If you find yourself experiencing any form of abuse, it’s important to ask for support. 

  • Chat to someone supporting and understanding, whom you trust
  • Find a mental health practitioner that’s right for you (ask around, get on Google or ask your GP for recommendations)


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Listen to How Can I Say This… here.

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Weekly podcast that explores the interesting corners of mediation, conflict resolution and peacemaking. Overthinking Conflict speaks with experienced practitioners, innovators, pioneers and boundary pushers to tackle some of the controversial and difficult topics in the field while finding ways to grow practices and implement new ideas.

Listen to Overthinking Conflict podcast here

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