Conflict Resolution Skills and Strategies for Healthy Relationships

Couple having conversation in living room

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Conflict is a predictable part of virtually all relationships. It can also be a significant source of stress in your relationships or stress at work. Therefore, it's important to learn conflict resolution skills. While many people keep quiet when they are upset, unfortunately, this isn’t a healthy long-term strategy.

Unresolved conflict can lead to resentment and additional unresolved conflict in the relationship. Even more important, ongoing conflict can actually have a negative impact on your health and longevity.

Unfortunately, resolving conflict can be tricky as well. Handled improperly, attempts at conflict resolution can actually make the conflict worse.

This article covers conflict resolution techniques that will help you in your personal relationships, at work, and wherever else conflict may arise in your life.

For those who weren’t born into a family where perfect conflict resolution skills were modeled on a daily basis (and, let’s face it, how many of us were?), here are some guidelines to make conflict resolution more simple and less stressful.

Why Conflicts Occur

There are a number of reasons conflicts occur, including:

Of course, the causes of conflict depend on the person you are conflicting with and the circumstances surrounding the conflict.

Conflicts at Work

When spending time with the same group of people for most of the day and most of the week, it's only natural that conflicts arise from time to time.

Heavy workloads or poor leadership can contribute to conflict. It could also be that employees are confused about their responsibilities, and thus, clash with each other about what their roles are.

Other times, conflict results from people not getting along, either because they have different personality types or because there is toxic behavior (such as bullying) going on.

Conflicts With Family

Different members of the family may have opposing viewpoints or values. These values can be religious, cultural, or lifestyle-related. For instance, if your parents expected you to get married and live close to them, you might end up arguing with them over your decision to stay single and move across the country.

Siblings fight with each other—especially during childhood, they may fight for parental attention. But they may also fight when they're adults. Conflict over money, caring for elderly parents, or family business of any kind may arise over the course of a sibling relationship.

In general, it can be difficult to set boundaries with loved ones, and sometimes, even more difficult for them to respect your personal boundaries.

Conflicts With Partners

Partners or spouses often fight for common reasons including money problems, one partner feeling a lack of affection or intimacy, decisions related to childcare, how to spend leisure time, and issues related to in-laws.

Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict resolution skills are really general life skills that can help you cope with conflict when it arises. These skills center on getting in touch with yourself and strengthening your communication.

Getting in Touch With Your Feelings

An important component of conflict resolution involves only you—knowing how you feel and why you feel that way.

It may seem that your feelings should already be obvious to you, but this isn’t always the case.

Sometimes you feel angry or resentful, but don’t know why. Other times, you feel that the other person isn’t doing what they "should," but you aren’t aware of exactly what you want from them, or if it’s even reasonable.

Journaling can be an effective way to get in touch with your own feelings, thoughts, and expectations so you are better able to communicate them to the other person.

Sometimes this process brings up some pretty heavy issues. You may want to reach out to a therapist or other mental health professional as you handle emotions that arise.

Active Listening

When it comes to effective conflict resolution, how effectively we listen is at least as important as how effectively we express ourselves. It’s vital to understand the other person’s perspective, rather than just our own, if we are to come to a resolution.

In fact, just helping the other person feel heard and understood can sometimes go a long way toward the resolution of a conflict. Good listening is one of the most effective conflict resolution strategies. It helps to bridge the gap between you and another person and to understand where the disconnect is.

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Unfortunately, active listening is a skill that not everybody knows. It’s common for people to think they’re listening, while in their heads, they’re actually formulating their next response.

It’s also common to be so defensive and entrenched in your own perspective that you literally can’t hear the other person’s point of view.

Assertive Communication

Communicating your feelings and needs clearly is also an important aspect of conflict resolution. As you probably know, saying the wrong thing can be like throwing fuel on a fire, and make a conflict worse. The important thing to remember is to say what’s on your mind in a way that is clear and assertive, without being aggressive or putting the other person on the defensive.

One effective conflict resolution strategy is to put things in terms of how you feel rather than what you think the other person is doing wrong, using "I feel" statements.

Conflict Resolution Strategies

The next time you find yourself in conflict, consider the following strategies to help you reach a resolution.

Make a Decision

When a conflict occurs, you'll want to make a decision about how to handle it. If it's a minor issue and something you can overlook for now, you might choose to avoid confrontation. This tactic may be worth considering if the conflict doesn't threaten you and your overall well-being, and if the situation itself is temporary.

Have a Third Party Present

If you do choose to engage in conflict resolution with another person, it may be helpful to have a third party present. This is especially true if the conflict is happening at work. You'll most likely want to inform your boss or a human resources representative that there is a conflict that needs resolving—especially if you and a co-worker have tried resolving it on your own to no avail.

For couples who are resolving a conflict, a relationship counselor can help to moderate your discussion and make sure both of you are listening to (and actually hearing) each other.

A family therapist may help for families who are experiencing conflict.

If you don't have access to a mental health professional, you might enlist the support of a loved one who is neutral about the conflict. Make sure you are setting healthy boundaries before resolving family or relationship conflicts. These boundaries may include:

  • Taking a break from the discussion if it gets too heated
  • Respecting the other person when they're talking (not interrupting)
  • Agreeing to reconvene at another time to continue the resolution if necessary

Consider a Compromise

Though you may initially be disappointed by the idea of compromising, try to think about what's best for all parties involved. If there is a way that everyone's needs can be met by one solution, be open-minded. While you don't want to compromise on your physical or emotional safety, consider whether you're open to an alternative resolution that you may not have thought of before.

Seek a Solution

Once you understand the other person’s perspective, and they understand yours, it’s time to find a resolution to the conflict—a solution you both can live with. Sometimes a simple and obvious answer comes up once both parties understand the other person’s perspective.

In cases where the conflict was based on a misunderstanding or a lack of insight into the other’s point of view, a simple apology can work wonders, and an open discussion can bring people closer together.

Other times, there is a little more work required, and you'll need to use your conflict management skills to reach a resolution. In cases where there’s a conflict about an issue and both people don’t agree, you have a few options.

Sometimes you can agree to disagree, other times you can find a compromise or middle ground, and in other cases the person who feels more strongly about an issue may get their way, with the understanding that they will concede the next time.

The important thing is to come to a place of understanding and try to work things out in a way that’s respectful to all involved.

If your conflict is at work, remember that there are laws protecting employees from workplace bullying and harassment. Try doing some research first.

Human resources can let you know about your organization's policies against bullying as well. In many cases, there are specific actions that a person committing harassment in the workplace is subject to, such as warnings or termination, depending on the severity of their offenses.

Know When It’s Not Working

Because of the toll that ongoing conflict can exact from a person, sometimes it’s advisable to put some distance in the relationship or cut ties completely.

In cases of relationship abuse, simple conflict resolution techniques can only take you so far, and personal safety needs to take priority.

When dealing with difficult friends or family members, adding a few boundaries and accepting the other person’s limitations in the relationship can bring some peace. You may even make some relationship resolutions that help ease any tension.

For instance, maybe you both resolve to hear the other person's point of view when having a disagreement, or to give the other person space when they ask for it and reconvene when they've cooled off.

In relationships that are unsupportive or characterized by ongoing conflict, letting go may be a great source of stress relief. Only you can decide if a relationship can be improved, or should be let go.

If you are in a toxic work situation that is causing job stress, and it isn't getting better, start to consider your options. While you shouldn't have to get another job simply because your current one isn't handling a situation very well, it may be your best option.

You may also want to seek legal representation if your organization isn't appropriately handling your situation and/or if your well-being is negatively impacted.

Ways to Prevent Conflict

The following tips can help you prevent conflict both in your relationships and at work:

Be Respectful

It's a good rule of thumb to respect others' opinions, even if they differ from your own. It might help to put yourself in someone else's shoes. Maybe their background, experiences, and values contribute to why they say or do certain things.

Choose Your Words Carefully

Consider your word choice when speaking to someone, especially if you disagree with this person. For instance, starting a sentence off by saying "I feel that..." or "I think that..." emphasizes the fact that you're speaking about your own experiences and not assuming you know what's best for others.

Know When to Apologize

Owning up to a mistake can prevent a conflict from occurring in the first place. While you may not think you did anything wrong, try to consider the other person's point of view. Saying you're sorry for hurting their feelings can go a long way.

Ask for Help

Asking for help is not only a helpful tool for conflict resolution, but also for conflict prevention.

Try talking to a trusted friend or colleague about the situation to get objective advice. You can also talk to a mental health professional.

It's advisable to talk to a human resources representative if you're experiencing a potential conflict at work. They can advise you and even address a situation head-on to prevent it from escalating.

Know When to Walk Away

You might walk away from a conflict temporarily or you may decide to walk away from a relationship or job permanently. Remember, you have every right to set healthy boundaries—including time and space away from someone—to protect your health and well-being as well as your sense of safety.

A Word From Verywell

Most people dread conflict and confrontation. But learning and utilizing conflict resolution skills and strategies can help make settling a conflict a little bit easier.

Remember, you don't have to face conflicts alone. Talking to a trusted loved one, a mental health professional, and/or an advisor at work can help you navigate conflict knowing you have a network of people helping and supporting you.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How can I resolve a conflict in a relationship without fighting?

    Communicate as clearly as possible. Set boundaries defining unacceptable behavior (such as shouting or name-calling). If fighting occurs, take a break and continue talking another time. If a person is abusive, try to get to a safe location as soon as possible.

  • What are conflict management skills and why are they important?

    Conflict management skills are strategies that can reduce tension and hurt feelings and increase respect and communication during disagreements. Conflict management skills are important for maintaining healthy relationships.

  • What do I do in a conflict if the other person refuses to listen or compromise?

    You might use an "I feel" statement and say, "I feel unimportant when you don't listen or don't make compromises." If they continue their behavior, you can set boundaries, such as, "If you continue ignoring me, I'll have to leave the room," or "I can't spend as much time with you if you don't respect my needs in the relationship."

  • How are conflict resolution skills and interpersonal communication similar?

    Both conflict resolution skills and interpersonal communication involve an understanding of people's emotions and how to communicate with others.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Elizabeth Scott, PhD
Elizabeth Scott, PhD is an author, workshop leader, educator, and award-winning blogger on stress management, positive psychology, relationships, and emotional wellbeing.