People tend to avoid conflict because of two primary factors: they are anxious that the other person may confront them about their own behaviors and then the individual has to take ownership over the problem and commit to making a change. People tend to engage in three different types of unhealthy behaviors when avoiding conflict. First, an individual may avoid conflict until they experience an emotional outburst and act in an aggressive manner towards another person. Second, an individual may avoid conflict with another person but then engage in passive-aggressive behaviors. Finally, an individual may avoid conflict and both aggressive and passive-aggressive behavior towards another individual but then chose to frequently “vent” about the individual to others leading to resentment.
When helping a person learn communication strategies that will lead to healthy conflict and likely a resolution, I initially discuss the benefits. The person will likely experience less anger and is more likely to develop healthy/working relationships. Then, I help an individual recognize that their perception of the situation is not completely true. Perceptions are not based in reality, and often, when two people are in a disagreement the truth lies somewhere in the middle. People often struggle to accept that they are not completely right about a situation. At times, I assist a person with recognizing that when you are completely right about a situation you remain in a victim role and can feel angry. Being open to other perspectives can be liberating because of strong feelings of anger and resentment dissipate. I then help that person reflect on what behaviors they can take ownership of and change. Finally, we discuss specific strategies that facilitate the process of developing a shared meaning of the problem with the other person. The goal is to accept that the other person’s perspective is also valid and to find common ground from both individual’s perspectives. When a person feels their viewpoint has been heard, they can be open to listening to the other person’s perspective. A person can then work towards compromise leading to a healthier relationship between the two individuals in conflict.
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