Damage Control: Handling Conflict – The Personal Side

In the practical blog on conflict I offered some simple steps to dealing with conflict. Now I want to talk about how I (and I think most people) handle conflict. 

Depending upon a litany of factors including my age, the season of my life, how many stressors I am dealing with, my physical, emotional and spiritual health, etc.—there are three main ways I have noticed that I manage conflict. In fact, I can honestly say that I have responded to conflict in all of these ways at some point in my life.

The first way of responding to conflict is what I call “stuffing.” Stuffing for me is when I simply do not deal with the conflict at hand. I ignore it, change the subject or immerse myself in something else.  Some of my clients even use substances (like alcohol and illegal drugs) to help them escape from conflict. Of course any issue you “stuff” does not go away.  It festers and may cause physical problems like headaches or insomnia. Sometimes it seeps out quietly in passive aggressive behaviors. Other times the emotions you have stuffed down as a result of conflict explode in the most dangerous and unexpected ways. For example, yelling at someone who has no part in the issue.

The second way I have dealt with conflict, though only occasionally in my life, is by what I call “exploding.” This has only happened to me a few times and usually in the most serious of life circumstances (not that that is any excuse).  While exploding is not a regular problem for me, I have met numerous people that explode in the midst of conflict on a regular basis. These people are emotionally reactive and often very angry and/or depressed. Obviously exploding does not solve conflict. It only makes it worse. 

The third way of dealing with conflict, which I try to regularly employ, is positive conflict management. Handling conflict well does not involve stuffing or exploding. When I handle conflict well with loved ones or people who are constants in my life, I usually take a few moments (or hours or a day) to process what I am feeling and thinking. I then decide when I will speak to the person involved and what I will say. When we talk I follow the steps I talked about in the first blog on this subject.

For quick daily conflicts—say at the grocery store or a restaurant—I have other ways of dealing with conflict. I breathe deeply, use “I statements” and express my feelings. Sometimes this works (meaning people are receptive) and sometimes it does not.  But, I continue to try.

Understanding how you usually handle conflict in your current stage of life is helpful for catapulting you into a new season of managing conflict well. There will always be conflict in our lives. However, if we gain insight into how we resolve conflict and also learn new ways to do so, we can have more peaceful and rewarding relationships in which we feel heard and validated. 

If you are having problems in any type of interpersonal relationship, a licensed mental health counselor can help you. She can teach you communication and assertiveness skills and provide a safe and supportive environment for self-exploration and learning.  If you are in need of individual, couples’ or family counseling, please call Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at 407-443-8862 to speak with an experienced counselor. 


Yolanda Brailey