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10 Things to do When Conflict is High

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

two gold macaws looking away from each other
  1. Go slow. Too often when we are upset, we want to present an entire catalog of reasons why we are justified in feeling this way. If you address more that one or two things in any conversation, the person you are speaking too is going to start losing capacity to really hear you and make attempts to do better. Stick to one thing if you can.

  2. Remove elements that increase conflict: if you are tired, hungry, drunk, in public, etc consider talking another time. Conflict is hard enough as it is, don’t set someone up to lose their cool by bringing up something challenging when there are other factors that will add to the challenge. You may have to say, “there is something I would like to discuss with you later. When would be a good time?”

  3. Off-load extra energy: We often enter conflict when we are still hot under the collar. If you are already at a 10 on the angry scale, engage in an activity such as writing or going for a walk before you talk to the person. There’s a lot you need to say, and how you say it matters.

  4. Watch your language: Language matters. Name calling and cursing are going to set your conversation up for failure. If you want to be heard, choose language that easy easy to listen to. Sometimes valid feelings are disregarded because the delivery is abusive.

  5. Watch your tone: Yelling is abusive. Don’t do it. However, when we are frustrated it is normal for our tone to change and the volume of our voice to rise. Be mindful and try to keep it in check. Take breaths in between to bring yourself down. You’re allowed to be upset, but sometimes we get so upset we scare the person we need to speak to. When people are scared, they can’t listen.

  6. Have a question for the other person: This may sound strange, but so often we engage in conflict with only the motive to be understood, when we don’t realize that 50% of the reason why we feel misunderstood is because we don’t understand why the other person is doing what they are doing - so ask. “Hey, I didn’t like how our conversation went yesterday. I have some thoughts about what went wrong, but first, can you tell me what was going on with you?” You might be surprised how much of your anger melts when you realize that the other person has legitimate reasons for being upset too.

  7. Pay attention to when you agree: We have been conditioned to protect ourselves so much in conflict that we don’t even realize when we are betraying ourselves. If someone approaches me with a tone of hostility and says, “This isn’t working for me!” I feel the need to immediately disagree as a demonstration that I’m not just going to roll over in the conversation, even though the words they just said I do agree with. If you can respond, “I agree” then you have begun to meet each other somewhere in the middle.

  8. Challenge your certainty: When we head into a conversation we often confuse how we feel, or our passion for the subject, for truth. The way you feel is not truth, and the other person may feel totally different. You saying “It needs to be this way!” Is not true. Instead say, “For me to feel comfortable, I think I need it to be this way.” That means that any variation will either cause you discomfort (which can be good for you in small amounts) and that you are asking your partner if they can put aside what they want because they care about what you need. Give people the opportunity to disagree, or have a different view, and you might be surprised how they will accommodate because they are choosing to alter their own ideas for your benefit. If they also have needs and discomforts, yours are not objectively more important.

  9. Listening is more than not talking: When we listen, we nod, we comment, we interject, we form new thoughts. We’re taught that this is active listening, which can have value, but first make sure you are actually hearing what the other person is saying. Imagine for a moment that you’re at a lecture where the speaker is telling you things you have never heard before and you are learning a lot. You are an audience member. You’re not there to speak. What if you listened like that to your partner, what would be different? When you listen to a speaker, you may sit for an hour in total silence and then be able to paraphrase and comment on all the pieces of the talk you found interesting afterwards. Why can’t you do that for your partner? It doesn’t mean you have to be in total agreement, it just means that you are capable of just sitting and listening. Taking in information without having a need to speak. So, listen more. Wait to speak. When you do speak, acknowledge the other person’s thoughts and ideas to confirm you did hear them before sharing your thoughts. Expect this in return.

  10. Understand what is actually happening: we are often upset by the story we are writing in our heads about why someone did what they did, or what they meant by what they did. If an outside observer were to see what happened there would be far less to say about it. There is the story, and then there are the actual events. The way someone looks at you may make you feel anxious, however, you do not actually know what a look is about. Both the story in your head and the actual events matter, however, reality is likely some blend of the two. Looks do have meaning, but you are not a mind reader. Don’t write the story for others. Let the other person know that you are making up your own story and allow them to clarify. You may find the real story is far different than the one you made up. (Brené Brown has great insight on “The story I’m writing in my head…”).

If you are struggling with conflict in your relationship, schedule an appointment today.

DD Love, MFTC - (970) 852-0687 -

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