Rebel Well: Conflict Resolution Basics

This piece is part of Rebel Well: a Starter Survival Guide to a Trumped America for Teens and Emerging Adults.

On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies: ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’ ― Kurt Vonnegut

1) Take a minute (or even better, a few): If we’re hurting or upset with someone, we may feel a strong urge to react to them or the situation immediately, like we just want to get those hard feelings out of us before we implode. Sometimes whether we react doesn’t even feel within our control — but it is. Exploding isn’t any better than imploding, especially when someone else is in our direct line of fire. When conflict arises and you’re running hot, center yourself for a sec: take a few breaths, remind yourself of who you are and who you want to be at your best, and cool down your upset at least enough to take control of your emotions and behavior.

2) In before out: Try and internally process before you speak or act. Check in with your feelings and thoughts. We can always ask someone to give us a minute and can step outside or away for a little bit to get that space. If anyone refuses you time or space and tries to force you to stay in conflict, they aren’t ready — or don’t want — to resolve the conflict with you. It’s time to run, then, not walk, to get the space and emotional safety you need.

3) Use “I” statements: It’s important during conflicts to stick to our thoughts and our feelings and to own and express our experience of things rather than to focus totally on the other person or to assign them motives. So, for example, say, “I have a hard time feeling heard when you talk at the same time I do” instead of “You don’t listen to me.” Sometimes conflict is simply one person not getting the impact of their behavior on someone else, so now and then an “I” statement can solve the whole issue.

4) Where and when: Resolving conflict is often thorny and takes real energy and focus from everyone involved. Pick environments for working through conflict that make room for that fact. Trying to resolve a conflict through texting, with a bunch of other people around, when someone is in the middle of something else, or when you’re really tired isn’t the way to go. Choose mediums for communication where no one has to shortcut or be multitasking. Set things up so everyone involved has the time, energy, and ability to pay very close attention to each other.

5) Patience, grasshopper: If both people are doing their best to resolve it and be cool with each other, a minor conflict can often be squared away in one talk, sometimes even within a couple minutes. The big stuff, not so much. When a conflict is major, complex, or requires more negotiation or when someone involved is really struggling with managing it, resolution is an ongoing process and project that we work on over time, with a series of talks and agreements, not just a chat, a hug, and a “No worries, we’re cool.”

6) Be accountable: Just taking responsibility, clearly and earnestly, for our own stuff goes a long way in resolving conflict. Acknowledging life history that has nothing to do with the other person but that’s bogging us down, ways we may have intentionally or carelessly created conflict, or areas we know we’re not good with conflict and need to work on are kinds of accountability that can put you and someone else in space where you’re ready to solve it.


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