Conflicts are normal, but different communication styles can make fights worse!
In families, friendships, and relationships of every sort, disagreements and conflicts are bound to occur (even when those relationships are healthy). The workplace and family environments in particular can be hotbeds for strife as power dynamics in those spaces often position others to make choices that affect you without your input. Although well-handled conflict can teach us a lot (how to gain a new perspective or boundaries about what we’d like to avoid), how well someone manages the rift in the moment (by talking it through or refusing to talk at all) has serious ramifications for all involved.
As a life coach, I often hear stories of people struggling to relate with loved ones, co-workers, etc. — anyone who communicates differently than they do. My first step to help clients keep their valued relationships healthy is providing them with this basic breakdown about how each person in the conflict might perceive things:
The Talk-It-Out Person:
Are you a talk-it-out person? If so, you may feel the need to clear the air or maybe to apologize or perhaps you simply want to feel heard and acknowledged. To you, stuffing feelings is a recipe for disaster and you know a healthy conversation can create an even stronger bond. It’s highly frustrating to want to communicate with someone who completely shuts you out and opts for the silent treatment rather than a respectful discussion.
You may wonder what you did wrong or why the other person is being so “mean” about it. When someone like you is given the silent treatment, even small conflicts can escalate because while the other person isn’t having a conversation about the problem, your brain is! Your mind torments you, creating possible scenarios that assume what the other person must be thinking or what you did wrong to make them clam-up. You may talk to friends about the situation to get their opinion (because you genuinely need to talk to someone). And whether your friend agrees with you or not, the conflict grows bigger simply because of the thoughts and emotional energy swirling around inside you without resolution.
You probably feel hurt or disregarded. You may fear the negative impact the conflict will have on your relationship as a whole. After all, how can you keep your family or relationship happy if there’s an elephant in the room that’s not being acknowledged? The silent treatment is damaging to you because it infiltrates your self-confidence (one of three components of self-esteem). When you begin to doubt your relationship with a family member, partner or coworker, you begin to doubt yourself whether you realize it or not.
The silent treatment causing you to think and feel worse about yourself feels like mental andemotional abuse. But that person who cares about or loves you may not mean to hurt you at all. He or she may think by avoiding a big conversation and just letting it go, you can both move on. They see dwelling on the situation as more damaging. As a result, the conflict feels like a pebble to one person and a boulder to another, but the relationship will suffer without resolution.
As the talk-it-out person, you may feel disengaged and hurt by their silent reaction to conflict, fear grows around the possibility of future conflicts going the same way and you find yourself walking on eggshells around that person. How can that be healthy?
The Silent Treatment Person:
Are you the person who clams up and just wants to let it go during a conflict? You may feel it’s not worth the energy to discuss the disagreement at hand and you certainly don’t want to make matters worse by continuing to disagree. Maybe you had a bad experience in the past where talking it out inspired a breakup or long-standing rift. That would cause anyone to be a little gun-shy when a similar situation rears its head, especially with someone you care about. To you, it just seems like a no-brainer to let bygones be bygones and move on, doesn’t it?
You have no intention of hurting the other person with your silence, and you may simply need some time to think things through before talking about the problem. Some personality types require time to process situations before opening up. Minds like yours want to get it right before they speak up, and you can’t do that if you’re flying by the seat of your pants in a volatile conversation. Not all people get their needs met the same way, but we do all need to have those needs met eventually.
The fact that the person you disagreed with is pressuring you to talk is just making it worse. You wish they would stop and give you some space. Now things escalate and you feel even more uncomfortable about an impending discussion because the small disagreement has now blown up into some huge, emotionally charged event. This can’t turn out well, you think to yourself. Now what do you do?
You feel pushed to do something uncomfortable, and you wonder why someone who cares about you would ask that of you. You begin to doubt yourself and wonder if you’re doing this communication thing all wrong.
Get On The Same Page
We started with a disagreement between two people who react in opposite ways and as a result, we now have a big, emotionally charged situation where both people are feeling disconnected, hurt, fearful, pressured, disrespected, angry, invalidated, and, well, you get the picture. What’s the solution? Here are three important communication tools that I find work best (it’s always smart to have tools in your communication toolbox before you need them). Use these tips to help broker a happy medium for discussing conflict in a way that honors both of your communication styles. Don’t worry, getting on the same page and communicating effectively is much easier than you think:
- Recognize Each Other’s Communication Style: A simple knowledge of personality types helps you more easily identify where the other person is coming from. Once you understand their type, suddenly all of the communication conflicts you’ve ever had with them will make much more sense, like finding the piece that completes a puzzle. A solid understanding of all the various personality types (and their communication styles) is extremely beneficial to all of your relationships and is vital in career and business. Here’s a free, one-page download that will make you relationship savvy in this department in no time.
- Journal/Notepad: Practice journaling your feelings for 4-5 minutes whenever you feel tense, frustrated or any other negative emotion. Regularly taking this brief break to process what’s coming up for you can change your entire mood, life and relationships if you let it. Writing out what you’re feeling, what you think caused it and what, if anything, you can do about it is remarkably clarifying. (Yell into your pillow if it helps but get those emotions out or they will cause physical illness.) Now you have your feelings sorted out and solutions for a healthy discussion. No need to ramble and certainly no need for destructive drama.
- Healthy Communication Technique: Using the correct words in the correct order when discussing conflict will get your point across in a supportive, loving manner, and if that doesn’t feel right, you’re not ready for the discussion yet. Here’s what to say: “When we were __________ and you (did or said) __________, I felt ___________. Did you mean for me to feel _________ ?” You are giving the context of when, where and what happened (clarity), stating a fact of what was said or done (no “you made me feel”), sharing your feelings (no one can argue how you felt but some may try) and asking a yes or no question. You’re not placing blame, you’re simply sharing how you feel based on what happened. The question evokes either a “yes, I’m a creep and meant you to feel bad,” or an apology or explanation.