How to avoid relationship conflict

Wherever two humans exist in a sustained relationship, whether in a workplace or a home setting, conflict at some level will almost certainly happen from time to time.

Written by Rohan Watson – Mindstar Counsellor


That’s because of our unique differences in values, expectations, opinions, beliefs and needs.  How we respond to conflict is what really counts.  The choices we make in times of conflict are important.  Poor choices may impact our mental wellness, tear people apart, wreak havoc on family life, or in organisations it can lead to low morale, high absenteeism and lost production.  Making better choices when handling conflict can build understanding and improve interpersonal relationships, reduce anxiety and stress, increase friendships and boost your happiness level.


Learning to master the way we manage conflict therefore has many positive benefits.  But it does takes courage, commitment and practice to create an atmosphere of respect and cooperation.  Importantly, we must first shoulder the responsibility of owning our attitudes and actions. And then when we are ready to take off our mask and be real, and show preparedness to understand the thoughts, feelings and opinions of others, only then we begin to put ourselves on a healthier path of reduced relationship conflict. Surely it is a good thing to want to feel good and get along with the people closest to us?  Skilling ourselves in conflict resolution strategies is the place to start.  So here are 7 TIPS to help you on your way…


  1. Avoid using absolutes such as ‘Always’ and ‘Never’: The moment you express either of these words,  there is an instant rifling through the files of the subconscious mind of the person you’ve directed them at. Very quickly ‘exceptions’ will come to their conscious mind.  That instantly breeds resistance and resentment, inflaming conflict. Instead, be specific about facts and consider a softer alternative word, for example, like ‘often’ in place of ‘always’ if it is truly applicable.  Use of ‘always’ and ‘never’ in interpersonal upsets tend to be tied to blame-shaming comments which are to be avoided.


  1. ‘I’ before ‘You’: When upset with another person, using the word ‘You’ also directs accusatory blame at the other person in a particularly negative way.  Instead, use the word ‘I’ and bring it back to conveying how you specifically feel and refer to the actual behaviour or situation. For example, “when the party went late last night I felt annoyed because I did not get enough sleep before having to go to work”.


  1. ‘Silence’ is still communication: Staying silent to convey dissatisfaction or simply to avoid rocking the boat will only serve to supress conflict which may simmer for a time only to boil over later and lead to greater hurt.  Alternatively, be courageous, and learn to speak up assertively (not aggressively) and talk objectively about your feelings and what it is that’s troubling you.


  1. Speak ‘calmly’: Being confrontational by shouting angrily is emotively destructive behaviour and potentially harmful to your health, for example, by elevating stress levels.  Shouting angrily at someone is akin to grabbing a dog by its ears.  Take time to first cool off, perhaps go for a walk, and when ready to speak, do so in a calm and evenly toned way.


  1. Be ‘respectful’: Consider the other person’s point of view.  Seek to understand their concern and perspective.  If you don’t like what your hearing and find yourself getting tense and clenching your teeth, then try this little trick… with your lips closed lightly, curl the tip of your tongue up and keep it pressed against the roof of your mouth… you’ll be surprised how easily it inhibits clenching.  Importantly, intently listen to the other person respectfully.  Ask for elaboration for clarity and to avoid misinterpretation. True listening essentially means ‘wanting to hear’.  When you give respect you improve the likelihood of that respect being reciprocated.


  1. Stay focused and on-track: In the heat of confrontation, keep yourself from adding fuel.  Aim to be the cooling water that quenches the fire.  Keep on topic and put aside the dredging up of events of the past and focus solely on the current matter.


  1. Ask quality questions: Learn to be objective and not personal.  It can be easy to fall into the trap of highlighting another person’s flaws and faults.  The goal is finding resolutions not fighting.  Consider using engaging questions to understand the heart of an issue and its impact from the other person’s perspective.  Ask curious questions in a sincere and genuinely conversational way.  For example, ‘what were you hoping for by doing it that way?’ or ‘why were you feeling it necessary to go in that particular direction?’ or ‘when would be a good time to talk about what’s bothering you?’.


For best results, be consistent in practicing these strategies and as you master them, enjoy the reward of avoiding conflicts and fostering cooperation with those closest to you.  Should you find yourself caught up in a regular cycle of interpersonal conflict that is impacting your everyday life and causing you duress, then consider talking to a professional therapist.  A trained professional who specialises in relationships can provide an impartial, non-judgemental perspective together with conflict strategies skills to help you achieve the relationship goals important to you.

Written by Rohan Watson – Mindstar Counsellor