Is there anything worse than the heaviness of an unresolved disagreement lingering in the air? Or the anxiety of sensing impending conflict on the horizon? Disagreeing is a part of life, but it doesn’t have to be disastrous. Life would be pretty dull if everyone always agreed with us, wore the same clothes, ate the same things and had the same opinions. Okay, so maybe it would be fun for a day… The fact is, from time to time, we’re going to have different ideas and opinions, so let’s make a strategy, people!
We all have coping mechanisms and understanding yours (and those of the people closest to you) can help to avoid escalating arguments. Do you tend to avoid, overreact or obsess? Are you anxious or aloof when it comes to conflict? If you know what your go-to coping mechanism is, you can become aware when you start shifting into it and actively seek to soothe yourself and implement a healthier strategy (see below!).
People with avoidant coping mechanisms need space, people with anxious coping mechanisms want closeness but one thing is universal: if we’re feeling heated then we’re not in the right frame of mind to resolve the conflict. Take a time-out until your head clears. Nearly everything can wait 24 hours.
During the time-out, implement a self-care strategy. Keep a list of the go-to things you do that make you feel safe and supported. Call a friend, go out in nature, journal, see the sun rise or set.
Know Your Intentions
Do you want to be right or do you want to be loved? What matters most, having the last say or resolving the weird lingering energy that’s making your home / room / office tea-point super awkward?
After your space and self-care, if you feel a little more emotionally equipped, take time to unpack what you’re feeling. When emotions run high, usually the stakes feel high to us, it’s an indication that something really matters. So rather than exploding, ask yourself two questions
“What is it that really matters to me in this situation and how do I feel it’s being affected?”
“What am I assuming?”
Assumptions mean lack of information and our mind can get pretty creative at filling in those gaps. Rather than writing out a telenovela and hurling accusations like “you did this, so it means [insert worst-case-scenario here]” ask the questions instead. We can’t always change what happened, but we can make calmer inquiries into what it really means.
Find What You Do Agree On
Before moving onto the more complicated territory of what you don’t.
Avoid Using Absolutes
Rather than saying “you always” or “you are”, focus only on the scenario in question and focus on specific behaviours or words and how they make you feel. A more comfortable way of addressing your feelings without accusing the other is to say: “the story in my head is [ ], is that true?” This gives the other a chance to explain their perspective without feeling accused (and enflamed). Another great tactic is using X, Y, Z sentences. When you do X (specific behaviour) in scenario Y (specific occasion as opposed to absolute), I feel Z (ownership over your feelings). It may seem funny using structures to the way you speak but the truth is, this kind of communication is effective and invites connection rather than disconnection.
Remember You’re On The Same Side
You’re both humans trying to work through something and although you may have different ideas about how to get there, ultimately you want the same thing, right? Resolution and no awkward fisty-cuffs.
Disagreements and conflict will happen. They don’t have to be final. Learning how to self-soothe through self-care is a huge part of being autonomous emotionally, not taking other people’s stuff too personally, and being able to lean in when life gets a little messy. As Eckhart Tolle says, “you don’t have to be disagreeable when you disagree.”