Communication is important in relationships, which includes being a good listener and talking openly and honestly. A healthy communication style can make it easier to deal with conflict and build stronger relationships (Better Health Victoria, 2019). Additionally, healthy conflict can allow you to connect more effectively because you are able to understand each other on a deeper level. Conflict can also help another person understand your boundaries, values and belief system (Pizzolla, N. 2018).
It is worth considering one of the 5 conflict-resolution styles.
1. Avoidance: avoiding discussing difficult issues in the relationship and minimising problems. Both parties lose as neither wants confrontation.
2. Anger: it can be indicative of contempt for the relationship. Competition and point-scoring between partners may be evident. With avoidance and anger, a demand-withdraw behavioural pattern between couples can emerge. One party makes a demand and the other party withdraws or denies that there’s a problem.
3. Accommodation: one party has higher regard for their partner’s needs than their own, potentially resulting in growing resentment and emotional distance. Couples maintain the relationship despite the personal cost.
4. Compromise: both parties win and both parties lose a little too. Concern and respect are shown for each other, promoting closeness.
5. Collaboration: high regard and caring for each others’ needs are evident. There is co-owning of the problem where neither party loses, promoting closeness. (Great Lakes Psychology Group, 2020).
Organisational Psychologist Meagan Myles explains this further, acknowledging that “positively managing conflict is a life-long learning process for many of us. From the five styles outlined above, each individual within a relationship typically has a preferred conflict-resolution style. Reflecting on your preferred style and how that plays out in a conflict scenario is a good starting point for improving conflict management skills.”
“If you can stay calm during conflict, you’ll be better able to communicate, listen and find solutions. This is easier said than done, of course and our bodies often don’t help us. Conflict can trigger the body’s fight-flight-freeze response. This is sometimes described as an ‘amygdala hijack.’ The term was coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence and it refers to times where rational thought has been bypassed and you have an immediate emotional response to something your brain has perceived to be a threat. Similarly, in a conflict, if you observe the other person is in the midst of an ‘amygdala hijacking,’ it might be beneficial to use avoidance in the short-term and reconvene the conversation when cooler heads prevail.”
“Further, asking questions such as, ‘can you help me understand…’ is a less confrontational way to seek clarity on the underlying issues and can help move a conflict towards a more constructive conversation.” Finally, Meagan suggests practicing mindfulness techniques such as deep, slow breathing to calm the body and reduce the fight-flight-freeze response to help you more successfully negotiate a conflict situation.
Sarah Wainwright, BSc (Psychology), Postgraduate Diploma (Psychology), Writer, Third Culture Kid, wife and mother of 4. Sarah is a Sydney-based parenting expert and shares her experience and observations on Instagram @_parentingtips_