Whether you say something or nothing, you communicate. It is an automatic, unconscious and is a vital aspect of our lives. We communicate all day every day whether we intend to or not. It’s inevitable that occasionally, we get it wrong and we have conflict.

While research suggests that having healthy relationships improve wellbeing, conflict in relationships can negatively impact on both physical and mental health. No kidding right? How difficult is life when you are arguing with a loved one? That’s not to say that having conflict in a relationship is a bad thing; apparently there is a sweet spot of 5:1. Five positive comments to one negative comment. More negativity than that and the relationship is likely to break down.

So why does conflict occur? In most cases, we communicate by expressing our values, beliefs and personality through verbal and non-verbal messages. And a whole bunch of short hand messages (that are implied but not stated). Conflict is what happens when these values and beliefs clash with someone else’s.

The body responds to conflict like it is being physically threatened and this can escalate the argument even further as “emotion brain” takes control (and “logic brain” takes a ‘lil break). Have you ever been talking to someone and you just can’t see eye to eye on an issue? The longer you spoke to them, the more frustrated you became until you felt you had to change the topic or leave the conversation altogether. This kind of conflict isn’t unusual, but if it is constant it can have a negative impact on your wellbeing by increasing your levels of stress.

So how can you tell if conflict in your life is impacting on your wellbeing? Here are some red flags:

  • You go out of your way to avoid contact with someone because you don’t feel comfortable interacting with them. You even avoiding going to work.
  • You experience anger or other negative emotions when you’re in the presence of an individual even when they are saying something neutral.
  • You can’t sleep because you are replaying future or past conversations in your mind (more than one or two nights at a time).

Here are some tips on how to improve communication during conflict:

  1. Proactively resolve conflict rather than ignoring it. Unresolved conflict creates bad will where you assume everything a person says/does has malicious intent which is rarely true. This is like holding a hot coal in your hand waiting to throw it at your nemesis. Probably does nothing but cause you pain. Better to put your concerns on the table to help “let go”.
  2. When raising concerns with another person, describe in non-emotive terms what happened. For example “I presented the report we worked on to our director and we realised that some key data we were expecting to see from you in the report was missing”. Instead of using labels or accusations like “You made me look like a fool on purpose” or “You can’t do anything right”. Then invite comments and their perspectives of what happened. For example – “Can you tell me what happened?”
  3. Body language is extremely important for communication. Try maintaining eye contact and keeping your body relaxed when communicating with others. The more you physically close down (crossed arms, slumped posture, turning away) the more the conversation will close down.
  4. Don’t ignore the emotions by communicating them effectively and professionally. Start with an “I” statement. For example “I feel frustrated when you [insert non-emotive description of behaviour].” When you start with the impact on you people listen for just a little bit longer than if you start with a “you” statement.
  5. Find your middle ground when addressing a conflict. Being too passive or too aggressive won’t solve the conflict. Try being assertive by aiming to find a solution that will prevent the situation from happening again. For example, asking “How can we make sure that we do not have the same problem again?” can help to move the conversation along so you don’t get stuck in who is more right (or wrong) than the other.blogpost
  6. Manage the body’s response to conflict by controlling your breathing. This slows your heart rate and tells the brain to stop releasing adrenalin. Try a simple breathing square – breath in for 4 seconds, hold for 4 second, breath out for 4 seconds and hold for 4 seconds.


Want to learn more?


In person: Communication coaching with a psychologist. Speak to us at the Parramatta Psychology Clinic by calling (02) 9687 9776 or clicking here.

Self help book: How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie or Communicating Effectively for Dummies by Marty Brounstein

App: Fix A Fight

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