7 clever ways to handle conflicts, according to an expert

Jul 9 2021, 8:46 am

If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that we can actually be pretty good chefs, we love hugging way more than we thought we did, and it’s extremely important to understand how to properly handle conflict (co-existing with family, roommates, or a partner during lockdown can test the best of relationships).

Although no one loves disagreements, learning how to deal with this common part of our lives can actually be a truly transformative process.

And if you need some help in this area (don’t worry, you’re not alone), the Justice Institute of BC is now offering a certificate in Collaborative Conflict Resolution, a new program that will set students up for a strong foundation in conflict engagement, including negotiation, mediation, and conflict coaching.

To give you a peek at the program and some tips on how to coolly and cleverly deal with conflict in our day-to-day lives, we spoke with Kent Highnam, the dean of the School of Health, Community, and Social Justice at JIBC’s Centre for Conflict Resolution.

View conflict as an opportunity

Part of getting better at dealing with conflict has to do with reprogramming how you think about it in the first place. Rather than viewing it as something that causes fear or anxiety and should be avoided, it helps to view conflict as an opportunity for growth and understanding. Having this framework will help you remain grounded when conflict does arise.

Take a moment

When we find ourselves in the middle of a conflict, our instinct is to immediately address it — aka our first reaction is generally based on inflamed emotions.

If you give yourself time to process your feelings and plan out how the conversation is going to go, chances are the outcome will be a lot more successful.

Leave judgement out of it

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when being confronted, but leaving judgement out of the equation results in a much more equitable and understanding resolution.

Avoid the instinct to defend your position, and instead, try to shift your perspective and really step into the shoes of the other person and what they’re saying —  even if you don’t agree with it.

Reconsider your language

The wrong word or mistaken use of a phrase can lead to major misunderstanding, so keeping your language usage in mind is a seemingly simple but effective way to resolve issues.

Take the word “but”, for example. Using this during a conflict is a sure way to come off combative and defensive. Selecting a different word — such as “and” —  connects your two ideas and makes the person you’re speaking with feel heard.

Pinpoint the actual problem

If you’re reacting before actually thinking through the problem, chances are there won’t be a satisfying resolution for anyone.

Let’s paint a picture: it’s likely the problem isn’t just that your partner leaves their dirty dishes in the sink, it’s that they don’t contribute to the household chores as much as you’d like them to.

Make your apology more meaningful

When conflict arises, often we want it to end as soon as possible so we jump to apologizing immediately, even before we really know why we’re saying sorry.

Apologizing too early can come off like you’re avoiding the real issue. While we’re discussing what not to do during an apology, make sure to never — ever — use the phrase, “I’m sorry you feel that way” as it essentially “blames the other person for their mistaken feelings,” says Highnam.

To avoid this, really think about your apology, be specific to your actions, recognize the impact those actions had on the other person, and commit to making meaningful changes in the future.

You can only control 50% of the conversation

Any conflict inherently involves more than one person, which means you can only control how you respond to it, not how the other person — or people — react. Do the best you can to be understanding and equitable, regardless of what the other party is doing — this is an area the new certificate at JIBC has a strong focus on.

In any conflict, whether it’s at home, at work, among friends or strangers, there are going to be different ways to approach the situation. By working on our actions and responses, we’re all more likely to have healthier and happier relationships.

For those looking to further their conflict resolution skills — for either interpersonal or career purposes — the certificate program in Collaborative Conflict Resolution is a great place to start. Employers are not only actively looking for hires with these kinds of skills, but the kind of tactics you’ll learn are directly applicable to careers in family counselling, mediation, or human resources — just to name a few.

Students will explore the role of social justice issues like Indigenization, equity, diversity, and inclusion and those who complete the certificate will be able to partially fulfill the requirements for Mediate BC’s Civil and Family Mediation Roster.

To learn more about the program and to start your application, check out JIBC’s website.

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