Note: This is adapted from a previous work I wrote and published in another location.
Western culture likes to say “you need to use conflict management” or “you need to use coping skills” or whatever the thing is. Western culture doesn’t give you those things, though. We’ve got all the time in the world for making people feel bad about not using those skills but no time for teaching the very same skills.
Avoidance and aggression are the defaults when no one has given you anything else. Both avoidance and aggression have their places but in many cases they’re not healthy conflict management.
Avoidance and Aggression
Avoidance is pretty much what it sounds like but it can include additional things you might not have considered. Non-exhaustive list:
- Saying some variation of “I don’t care” or “you decide” when you really do care.
- Keeping quiet when someone’s behaviour negatively impacts you.
- Not sharing your perspective when your position is missing from the conversation.
- Forcefully making your point over the other person.
- Refusing to listen to any position that disagrees with your own.
- Sarcasm, insults, put-downs.
There are specific cases where avoidance is the best method and specific cases where some types of aggression are called for.
Outside of those cases, you want to use another method. A method that bypasses aggression and avoidance to get to positive results. I’m not going to brush over this: Sometimes the positive result is an end to a relationship. If that’s the outcome that needs to happen, then it’s positive to get there even if it’s painful and it’s not what you wanted.
Whether you use an x-step plan or you use a more fluid approach, your conflict management approach in most cases needs to:
- Be kind to all parties (including yourself).
- Occur in the right context (i.e. not in public or around people who aren’t involved in the conflict).
- Be honest and open about your needs, wants, desires, and boundaries.
- Be respectful and engaging with the other parties’ needs, wants, desires, and boundaries.
Sometimes you don’t have a conflict. You have a boundary that isn’t being respected. I’ve included a boundary section to help out with that.
Non-exhaustive list of some cases where avoidance is the best method:
- When the person you’re avoiding conflict is abusive and you can’t get out of the abusive situation right now.
- When the person you’re avoiding conflict with isn’t in a place where they can work with you on the conflict.
Non-exhaustive list of some cases where aggression may be the best method:
- When there is an immediate threat to life or health (yours or others’) which cannot be dealt with some other way.
YouTube videos on the basics
- Conflict resolution with robots — Geared toward an active conflict in the present. The main audience is kids but it’s fine for adults.
- Conflict resolution without robots — (Just a doctor talking.) A six step process with a handy mnemonic to deal with a smaller scale, persistent issue.
- Slightly vaguer guide — This might work better for larger groups. Don’t watch if you hate TED Talks but it is at least slightly more practical than the average TED Talk.
- Detailed and exhausting, geared toward a romantic partner — You can adapt it to other types of relationships. This approach is best for on-going, long-term conflict.
Articles on boundaries
- 10 Ways to Build and Preserve Better Boundaries
- 5 Ways to Maintain Boundaries with Difficult People
- Begin to set personal boundaries — This is a great resource if you’re not sure what boundaries you should set or how to communicate them.
- The Power of “No”: Set Better Boundaries for a Better Life — Feeling bad about setting boundaries? Read this!
I want to read a blog
- The space within — Conflict resolution strategies from Dr. Tammy Lenski).
- Captain Awkward — Less about conflict resolution and more about setting healthy boundaries. For a lot of us, though, the relationship between the two is super real.
I like to read (or listen) to books
- Crucial Conversations — I swear by this book. It’s available in paper, in ebook, and in audio. Just be careful when trying to buy the audio because the audiobook Amazon etc. try to sell by default is more of a companion to the physical book. You want the unabridged copy. It’s not clear which is which so head down to the comments to figure out.
If you’d like to get a better idea of what it’s about before spending money on it, Vault Careers has a summary of the method.
If you want a more in-depth look at what it’s about, see Summary of Crucial conversations.
Note: I don’t endorse this blog. From their criticism section, it sounds like they’re into NLP. The summary is solid up until the criticism section, though.