Would you rather avoid conversations which may involve conflict? If so, you’re not alone. Conversations involving conflict can be intimidating and difficult. Yet, it’s important that we participate in these discussions, as conflict is a natural ingredient of a healthy relationship. It might be easier for you to engage in these conversations if you felt confident in your communication skills. Consider using these skills when discussing conflicts.
- Remain Calm. If you do nothing else, remain calm. You want to be heard and understood and it’s easy to hear and understand someone who appears and sounds calm. For example, imagine that someone says “I appreciate your honesty,” in a soft voice as opposed to “I APPRECIATE your honesty!!” in a sarcastic and perhaps condescending tone of voice. The words are the same, but the message received is very different. Remaining calm can help you to communicate the message that you want to send.
- Listen and Share What You Hear. I suspect that during a difficult conversation you want to be heard, and so do others. Make sure that you’re listening to others. Then, let them know what you heard. For example, you can say, “I hear that you feel angry and disappointed when I’m late. You feel that I’m not taking things seriously when I’m late. Is that what you said?” Repeating what you hear tells the person that you’re listening and also helps to clear up any misunderstandings if you receive the wrong message.
- Express Empathy. You want to be understood and accepted, and so do others. If you’re engaging in a conversation about conflict, it helps to communicate your understanding and acceptance of the other person’s thoughts and feelings. For example, you can say, “You feel angry and disappointed when I’m late. I’d probably feel that same way.” Empathetic statements can counteract patterns of defensiveness, avoidance, and aggression that can occur in these conversations.
- State Your Needs. What do you need from this conversation? Identify your needs and communicate them concisely during the discussion. You may need to spend some time identifying your needs prior to the conversation. Don’t expect anyone to know what you need or to meet your needs without you informing them of what they are. Here are a few examples of some common needs: “I need to be heard,” “I need to inform you of my boundaries,” “I need to discuss solutions to this problem,” and “I need you to understand where I’m coming from.”
- Be Aware of Your Nonverbal Communication. Most of the communication received in any conversation is nonverbal. Therefore, it’s important to be aware of how you appear in addition to what you’re saying. Be aware of posturing, hand movements, and eye contact. For example, imagine that you’re talking to someone with their arms crossed, whose body is pointed away from yours, and who rarely looks at you. This person can be saying all the right things but I doubt you’ll put much stock into their words. You might consider them to be disinterested or disrespectful. Be aware of what message your nonverbal communication is expressing.
- Follow Up. It may not be enough to have one conversation, you might need to continue to address any issues which were presented. Following up can accomplish a variety of goals, such as expressing appreciation, providing encouragement, and checking in on solutions, compromises, or boundaries that were agreed upon during the initial discussion. Here are some examples of checking in: “I appreciate your willingness to be a part of that conversation, it means a lot to me,” “I’m glad that you told me how you felt, please feel free to come to me in the future if those feelings return.” and “I wanted to see how it goes in regards to what we agreed upon. Do we need to make any additional changes?”
Difficult conversations shouldn’t be avoided, as these are opportunities to strengthen our relationships. If you need help to initiate or participate in difficult conversations, you may benefit from counseling. Symmetry Counseling provides individual, family, and couples counseling. Contact Symmetry Counseling at (312) 578-9990 to schedule an appointment.