Healthy ways to communicate when conflict is knocking at your door

The subject of this blog provides a simplified (notice I didn’t say easy) way of dealing with stressful speed bumps and obstacles to resolve problems. A problem is composed of three simple facets: 1.  A goal;  2.  Obstacles to reaching the goal and 3. The way things currently exist (status quo).

The purpose of this blog is to offer a way out of a conflict by applying some basis communication tools.  I’ve developed a prevention list that can help even before a conflict brews to a boiling point.  Some steps in this process are prevention steps, others are action steps that may be used if caught off guard or blind-sided by the capricious arrows of conflict.

So, here we go.

  • When a conflict is escalating and becoming more of an emotional free-for-all (a friend says that any kind of bias is an emotional commitment to ignorance), one of the great pulls that we sense as humans is to center on the personalities who are party to the conflict.  I find that a more effective way of communicating in this kind of crisis situation; these can be the common needs that all of the parties have that can also be beneficial for them.
  • It’s a major comparison between healthy and unhealthy ways of communicating at this point: feel the difference between saying “You’re the one who caused our car insurance to skyrocket because of all the tickets you get.  Clean up your own act!” and saying to the other party, “Look, I’m just as concerned about our money as you are. We barely can make ends meet. Clearly we have a problem. I suggest that each of think of what we can do in a proactive way, and talk again.  Each of us has a nickel in this dime, right?” Notice the use of “us” “we” “each,” etc. This word strategy focuses on our common conflict.
  • Focusing on the mutual problem stops the blame game or at least slows it down; instead of blaming someone, we could say, “I think where we need to start is to accept one another’s humanity and imperfections; I know I’ll make plenty of mistakes trying to sort out this problem, but I am committed to trying. Can we respect each other to see if we can agree to disagree? Can we listen to each other’s view, suspend our own opinion for a while without judgment, and then continue to come up with a solution where both of us win?
  • If you’ve attempted to resolve the conflict, and find yourself stuck not knowing which direction to go, perhaps a neutral party could act as an arbitrator.  When we find ourselves engaged very deeply with very strong emotions, it’s often difficult to see the forest for the one big sequoia that’s right in front of our eyes.  An objective set of eyes may be able to see patterns, emotional traps, and subtle ways of controlling the discussion by a hidden agenda. In Austin we have the Dispute Resolution Center ( The University of Texas can also provide resources ( then click ADR Links) where trained and certified mediators are available to assist in resolving conflicts. There are also others in your community who may provide an objective view, and make constructive suggestions.  There may be someone you trust in the faith-based community. Think of the resources available to you: it isn’t always necessary to ask a “professional” to help you—there are many options and alternatives out there.
  • Keep in mind that the purpose of communication is build a bridge to a better understanding of ourselves, those with whom we are in relationship with, and the world around us.  Keeping this principle alive with the occasional jolts of momentum that life brings to us; if we are able to be mindful of how we are feeling in an adversarial dialogue, what’s going on in our bodies during this stressful interlude in our lives, and trying to stay in the present moment, we come to the table free of some of the drama, anger/belligerance and grandiosity that is very natural for humans to communicate; let the past go (if you are family members or if your conflict is with a partner, try not to bring old skeletons out of the closet when seeking to resolve a conflict. This will usually create even more fireworks to add to the fire).
  • Remember that resolving conflicts can be messy; you won’t generally find resolution in a nicely gift-wrapped package.  Rather, it will usually come with sweat on the corners, wounds around the edges, and regrets running down our clothing.  Confronting what we avoid and wanting to  magically see it go away is very difficult; however, with a good support system to help us do the right thing in the conflict, and adding a dash of some self-reflection, accompanied with inner loyalty to our own truth, it can be accomplished.  Are you ready to take a risk?
  • If you’re ready to try, step out and take that risk. Consider any conflict resolution meeting as an encounter. An encounter always comes with surprises—there’s no script for it. What happens happens, and if you take the approach of it being an encounter, you never know what good things may come out of it.

© Christopher Bear-Beam October 15, 2012


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