How to Manage Conflict and Improve Your Relationships

As civilized human beings, we usually get along fine until someone brings up politics, religion or personal beliefs. At best that can lead to a friendly squabble at the family Christmas gathering.

At worst, it can lead to an explosive war between nations. 

Conflict is often frowned upon as something negative, as something to be avoided by all means necessary. Mostly because we’re so bad at it. We don’t want to offend people, we don’t want to seem like assholes, and we most certainly don’t want to be the one always picking a fight. 

So society teaches us to shut up and behave. Go about your daily life, live a shallow and non-intrusive existence, and try not to piss anyone off.

And yet, conflict is a natural part of life and personal growth and deeply connected genuine relationships are only accessible by embracing conflict.

So how can you get better at handling conflict?

The 8 Causes of Conflict

According to psychologists Art Bell and Brett Hart, there are eight common causes of conflict. The list is for the workplace, but you can imagine these reasons propping up in real life as well.

A conflict of:

  • Available resources
  • Working styles
  • Perceptions
  • Goals
  • Pressures
  • Roles
  • Personal values
  • Policies

More simply put, it comes down to a disagreement between two or more humans (or I should say, ONE or more humans). And because of lack of skill in conflict resolution, a simple disagreement can escalate into a massive argument.

But there’s good news!

Since conflict at its core is just people disagreeing, we have a good chance of solving every conflict by listening to the people involved.

Quick Guide to Resolving Any Conflict

Here’s a quick rundown of how to resolve most conflict situations.

1. Listen, and listen CLOSELY

This is the most important step. You shut up and listen.

No, SHUT UP. Your only job is to listen. Let the other person vent and rant and say what they feel like.

You don’t need to agree with anything they say. They may be completely wrong.

The person talking should focus on beginning their sentences with the words “I feel like”. That helps to separate the issue from the person. There may be accusations and you may feel like you’re blamed of something. You’re not. Ignore the feeling of needing to defend yourself at this point.

The other person must be allowed to speak and you must listen to their point of view, however inane and dumb it might feel to you.

The point of this exercise is to respect the person. We are humans and every human deserves the basic respect of speaking and being heard.

When they’re done talking, you switch roles and repeat.

2. Separate The Problem From The Person

I know it’s frustrating when someone doesn’t agree with you on some issue. You know you’re right and you want to prove it.

But here’s the real buggery gosh darn truth: they also know they’re right. And they’re frustrated because you don’t agree with them. That’s an important point to realize. For whatever reason, they have come to the conclusion that their “right” is different from your “right”.

We can’t all be right, but we CAN all be wrong. The truth is always somewhere in between.

Once you understand that we’re all fallible human beings trying to do our best to ensure our own continued survival, it puts things into a different perspective.

Their disagreement isn’t with YOU, it’s with your dumbass opinion.

Neither should your disagreement be with them as a person. Feel free to ridicule the idea, the opinion, the thought as much as you want, but always understand: that idea came from a living, breathing human being. And us humans, we’re all in the same boat.

Ideas and thoughts can be argued and discussed. They’re not real in that sense.

3. Accept The Situation

Maybe you realized you were wrong. Maybe you were able to present your case and change their mind.

Maybe all parties have decided to stand strong on their respective opinions and the disagreement remains.

It’s all good. Everyone has presented their perspective and viewpoint and has been listened to.

Now let it go.

It’s time to learn and grow. We know more about each other and our relationship has evolved. We can now accept the situation and start looking for options for the future.

4. Explore Options

If this is a business situation, perhaps you can find an easy solution or even a suitable compromise enough to get your work done. Very rarely there’s a business case where a simple disagreement between parties makes work impossible.

But if it does, great! This conflict has shown that a part of the team can not function. If this leads to someone quitting or leaving for good, it’s all a natural part of growth and should be revered. You should be thankful they’re no longer draining your energy with their disagreement, and they should be thankful that you’ve helped them grow.

As for personal relationships…

Most likely there’s a reason you got together in the first place. If you’ve been fundamentally authentic when meeting each other, your core values and principles most likely won’t change (which is why I always advise people to find themselves before finding someone else). Remind yourself and your partner that this disagreement doesn’t change the reason you got together in the first place.

If on the other hand you have fundamentally taken a step into different directions… be thankful. Sometimes we grow and evolve so drastically that we are no longer aligned with our partner. Then it is time to explore that. Sometimes this requires taking steps away from the relationship.

Sometimes the loving choice is to let people go.

Personal Growth Through Conflict

I love conflict. I absolutely thrive in it. When people get feisty and emotional, their true colors come out and our relationship evolves.

And I love that. That’s why you won’t find me talking about easy topics. You chat with me, we’re drilling deep. I want to see what’s behind your mask. What you love, what you hate. Engaging people on this level is a great way to create genuine connections, to instantly find out if you two will get along.

Don’t confuse this with being confrontational, angry, obstinate or provocative though. We’re not looking to insult people or make them angry. We ask difficult questions and risk getting into a conflict situation because we’re curious about who the other person really is underneath.

If you’re afraid to risk offense, embarrassment, being wrong, getting into an argument, or someone questioning your beliefs, you’re forever destined for superficial “how’s the weather” type relationships. Avoiding conflict will have nasty results in your life:

  • Business will suck because you won’t stand up for your values. People will regard you as a spineless salesman or a pushover.
  • Relationships will suffer because you come across as bland and inauthentic. Potential mates will find you unattractive because you seem wishy washy and don’t feel strongly about anything.

But… if you take a risk of offending someone, stand your ground when your ideals are questioned, voice your opinion when no one else agrees… you might just find someone who agrees deeply with your values.

Do you feel powerless in your worklife? Do you have trouble making deep connections with people? Hit me up, let’s talk about managing conflict.


Jay Pitkänen

Head coach at Rat Race Maverick, and moonlight marketer. Connoisseur of Cabernet Sauvignon. Spot him driving a Jaguar or Corvette at high speeds over long distances.

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