Damage Control: Handling Conflict – The Practical Side

Interpersonal conflict is guaranteed in life. Some would even say the holidays foster it as we find ourselves spending time with family members we may try to avoid the remainder of the year. In December’s blog I will talk about ways to prevent conflict. But for now, let’s talk about how to handle conflict once it begins. I hope that you will have a truly peaceful holiday season with family and friends.  But if not here are some ways to diffuse drama with family members, significant others, spouses and friends.

1)      Clearly define the problem. Sometimes we feel upset when someone says or does a certain thing, but are not exactly sure what it is that upset us. For example, a husband may criticize his wife for talking to someone at length at a party. At first, the wife thinks the husband is jealous.  However, after talking further the husband and wife identify the real problem. The issue is that the husband feels nervous when attending parties and does not want to be left alone while his wife chats with others. Good problem definitions are agreed upon, descriptive and outline each person’s role in the problem.

2)      Determine if the problem can be solved or just dealt with. For example, the party problem described above can be easily solved. Issues such as death, serious illness and financial hardship must be dealt with over time instead of quickly solved. 

3)      Brainstorm solutions for problems that can be solved and ways to manage problems that cannot be solved in the near future (i.e., death). Both parties should create lists of possible solutions. Spend time reviewing the lists alone. Then come together and use the lists to solve your problem.  Remember, compromising does not mean that you lose everything.  Before coming together identify what you will and will not settle for and use that as your springboard. 

4)      Create a Contract. After agreeing on a solution, outline a contract. A good contract identifies specific behaviors for each party, reflects a compromise and specifies ways each party can change and help the other partner to change. It is helpful to have this agreement in writing so you can easily go back and review it at a later date.

5)      Evaluate. Once the contract is in place, pick a date and time you will sit down together and review your progress. If things are going well, carry on. If not, you may need to come up with some better possible solutions/ways of managing things. 

This guide is not the end-all guide to handling conflict since sometimes the other party simply will not work with you. However, for committed long-term relationships, this guide is a practical start to handling conflict. If you are having trouble handling interpersonal conflict a mental health counselor can help you. Couples’ counseling is especially helpful if you are having repeated or long-term conflicts with your romantic partner. To make an appointment to speak with a seasoned counselor, please call Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862.


Yolanda Brailey