Sonya Thomas lcsw

6 Skills for Managing Conflict

Conflict is inevitable in any long term relationship.  Accept this from the get go.  Because of this, gaining the skills and developing the ability to successfully navigate conflict becomes critical in creating happiness and harmony in your relationships. Below are 6 skills that are extremely helpful to have in your toolbox when conflict arises.

  1. Practice physiological self-soothing – Time yourself out when conflict arises. Go for a walk, journal, read a book, listen to music, practice mindful breathing, or engage in any other healthy activity that assists you to calm down and get in a better frame of mind. How long is the perfect amount of time for a break? According to John Gottman, it’s 20 minutes.
  1. Use a softened startup – How you start a conversation dictates how it will go.  For this reason, it is importation to bring up a topic by using a soft start up.  Don’t blame. Use “I” statements. Describe what is happening rather than attack.  Check your tone.  And be polite.
  1. Repair and de-escalate – Use scripted phrases like “Let me try again,” “I don’t feel like you are understanding me right now,” “Can you say that in a different tone”, and “I’m sorry” to help de-escalate and begin making repair attempts.
  1. Listen for your partner’s underlying feelings – Perpetual gridlocked problems between you and your partner often conceal underlying feelings and longings that aren’t getting overtly shared. So, start by contemplating what you are really longing for and how you can communicate this more directly to your partner. Second, become a better listener and seek to discover your partner’s deepest feelings and longings. The purpose of this skill is to truly understand who you both are deep down inside in order to accept influence and compromise together.
  1. Accept influence – Recognize that your partner has valid ideas and important opinions (shocker — your way isn’t always the best, the only or the right way). Show respect for those opinions and ideas and be wiling to be influenced by them.  One of the hallmarks of a healthy relationship is the willingness of both partners to be inconvenienced at times, and to do so without being a martyr.
  1. Compromise – Compromise is an art.  “Compromise never feels perfect. Everyone gains something and everyone loses something… the important thing is feeling understood, respected, and honored in your dreams” says John Gottman. So work together with your partner to find common ground and compromise that will leave you both feeling valued, respected, and supported, even if you don’t get everything you want.

If you practice these six skills from Dr. Gottman and learn to manage conflict in positive and healthy ways, then your relationships will be more fulfilling and you will be growing individually.  Sometimes it takes the help of an outside person, so consider seeing a couples therapist if you believe your relationship could improve in the area of managing conflict.

And stay tuned for more wisdom from John Gottman coming in early 2020.  Until then, I hope you have wonderful holiday season, and peace in the new year.