Conflict - none of us like it, but it's part of life.

Conflict - none of us like it but it’s part of life.

Whether it is in a personal relationship, a family, with friends, or in the workplace - without direct, clear, and honest communication, conflict goes underground. The resulting hostility is expressed silently, or comes out aggressively, and a culture of back-stabbing and complaining to others is created. The problem with these styles of dealing with conflict is that nothing ever gets dealt with constructively.


This results in decreased co-operation with each other, and therefore decreased goodwill, decreased motivation, an increase in burnout, and relationships ultimately breaking down.

Ways of dealing with conflict – Personal Styles

We all have our own style of dealing with conflict, and like most things it’s about balance. For example, it’s ok to be a peace-maker and someone who doesn’t like to deal with with conflict and avoids it; but this is unhelpful if it is always the way you deal with it.

Avoiding – not dealing with it.
Compromising – finding the middle ground.
Accommodating (co-operative, selfless).
Collaborating (win/win).

These styles vary from person to person, but you need more than one method in your toolkit depending on the situation.

Strategies to deal with conflict

Create a culture of dealing directly with problems while being respectful, i.e. assertive communication.

Have a policy of zero tolerance of unhelpful communication patterns such as:

  • being unhelpful, not co-operating,
  • being indirect (complaining to others),
  • being silent – tolerating it while getting frustrated and possibly fuming (while planning an exit strategy),
  • being aggressive, intimidating, disrespectful.

Create a supportive environment and an open communication network by:

  • showing appreciation for each other,
  • doing your fair share of the work,
  • back each other up,
  • never gossip,
  • deal with conflict directly with the person concerned.


Practice I statements:

Describe the behaviour  (When…)/
Explain the impact (I feel…)/
State the desired outcome (therefore I want/need…)/Consequence (So that…)

For example:

When you criticise me in public/
I feel embarrassed/
Next time can you express your concerns in private space/so that I can listen to your concerns properly.

When you talk about my colleague when she is not here/
I feel uncomfortable/
Is it possible to bring these concerns up with her directly/
so they get dealt with?

Why bother?

If you communicate with blame or criticism, people don’t listen - instead, they defend themselves. Dealing with conflict assertively means you can address difficulties without the other person feeling attacked and therefore getting defensive.

You are stating how you feel, and so it feels less like a demand or a command to the other person hence they don’t feel controlled.


When you hear a complaint try and listen for the underlying feeling and respond to that. People will not be ready to listen to you until they think you have heard them first.

E.g. "I’ve been waiting two hours for some help with this work".

“That sounds very frustrating” is so different from “well, I have been very busy and I can’t help that”.

How to tell a thought from a feeling

Be careful not to put “I feel” in front of a blaming statement,

e.g. “I feel that you never listen to me”. This is not a feeling. I feel ignored, I feel unimportant, I don’t feel valued, are some of the possible feelings.

I good way of remembering this is: if it is possible to replace the word "feel" with the word "think" in the same sentence it is not a feeling. E.g. it is possible to say “I think that you never listen to me”, but you can’t say “I think unimportant”. Being unimportant is the feeling under the complaint of not being listened to.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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