Empower you and your loved ones in healthy ways

Navigating conflict can feel daunting, especially with loved ones, but it doesn’t have to be.

Communicating your needs and listening with empathy are skills which can be learned with practice.

Even basic conflict resolution skills will help you navigate disagreements, to de-escalating meltdowns and other tense situations.

These skills are applicable for interacting with people of all ages and professional backgrounds.

There are ways you can manage boundaries and communicate while maintaining healthy relationships.

What is conflict?

Disagreements are a natural feature of any relationship – friends, family, romantic or work colleagues to name a few.

Conflict can range from disagreements that you can’t sort out to strong verbal arguments to physical fights.

Conflict can also be uncomfortable silence, anger, and hostility, according to Raising Children.

Australia Counselling observes conflict as stemming from our own wants, desires, needs and fears.

The stronger our need for something, the bigger the conflict will be when we encounter a situation where we feel that those needs are threatened.

Many people experience the feeling of wanting to avoid any and all conflict.

If we store up too much frustration and don’t communicate our true feelings, conflict avoidance can negatively impact our mental health.

Knowing how to approach and de-escalate tense situations also improves our wellbeing and our relationships.

Causes of conflict

Any kind of conflict can be stressful, and some of these experiences can help us develop and improve our communication strategies.

There are instances when conflict can become unhealthy or make us question our safety.

It is important to remember any kind of disagreement or conflict we experience is normal when it is respectful.

Kids Helpline highlights a few main causes of conflict:

  • Friends and relationships.
  • Privacy and boundaries.
  • Important choices/decisions.
  • Freedoms and responsibilities – e.g., relationships, work.

Kinds of conflict

According to Harvard Business Review the kinds of conflict we can encounter can include (but are not limited to) are:

  • Task conflict – relates to tasks, commonly found in the workplace. It can relate to differences of opinion on how to do something, managing expectations, interpretation of facts and dividing up resources.
  • Relationship conflict – can originate from differences in personality, style, matters of taste even conflict styles.
  • Value conflict – this kind of conflict can arise from distinct or slight differences in identity, values and beliefs. This can relate to politics, religion, ethics, norms and other beliefs.

Navigating conflict with loved ones

Our brains can react significantly during any conflict.

It comes down to our biology, when we sense a threat, we are engineered to protect ourselves.

We are flooded with stress hormones designed to motivate us into ‘fight or flight’ reactions.

We may not be able to immediately halt this physiological reaction in the moment, but it can be de-escalated, resulting in more constructive and less reactive communication.

This helps especially when we have conflict with any of our loved ones and want to maintain a healthy relationship with them.

If conflict with a loved one is occurring on a regular basis, it can cause stress and negatively impact your relationship.

One of the most important things to remember in any conflict situation is it’s okay to excuse yourself for a few minutes to calm down before you respond.

Taking a break can help you re-focus, take some deep breaths to calm your brain down and consider your perspective.

To help you consider your approach, Headspace recommends:

  • Acknowledge and summarise what the other person has said – This shows you’re interested and listening to the other person.
  • Use ‘I’ statements to communicate – Using ‘I’ statement helps us to own what we are saying rather than giving a sense of blame that can happen with ‘you’ statements.
  • Think about your non-verbal communication like facial expressions, nodding and body language – Non-verbal communication is as important, if not more important than what we are saying.
  • Be prepared to negotiate – It is important to go into conversations prepared to listen to the other person’s perspective and see if we can find an agreement that works for everyone.

Further tips for de-escalation

A meltdown or highly emotional reaction can often be due to sensory overwhelm or sensory overload.

While these are common causes for emotional dysregulation for children, they can also affect adults too.

To de-escalate a situation, it’s important to remember to stay calm, it’s not possible to problem solve with someone who is agitated or highly emotional.

Furthermore, anger may be a sign that the person is in distress, experiencing fear or frustration, according to the NSW Department of Health.

NSW Health suggests taking the LOWLINE approach to de-escalate a situation:

  • Listen to what the issue is and the person’s concerns.
  • Offer reflective comments to show you have heard what their concerns are.
  • Wait until the person has released their frustration and explained how they are feeling.
  • Look into and maintain appropriate eye contact with the person.
  • Incline your head slightly, to show you are listening and give you a non-threatening posture.
  • Nod to confirm that you are listening and have understood.
  • Express empathy to show you have understood.

If you are experiencing conflict where you feel genuinely unsafe, you may be in an abusive situation.

If you are in an emergency or your life is in danger, call triple-zero (000).

You can reach out for support for yourself or a loved one by contacting 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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