Healthy Head Butting: 7 Conflict Tips

So we've had the benefit of meeting some really smart people along the way. Our good friend and relations coach Iris First is one of them and she introduced us to some additional relationship tools we think are absolutely amazing.

We thought they were so amazing we're doing a Reviving Your Relationships Webinar with her on how to spruce up any relationship. But because I'm impatient and excited I wanted to share something that could immediately help you right now.

Everyone has had that experience of going to talk to someone about something important and walking away wondering what the hell happened. It could be something small or a big relationship issue that needs to be ironed out, but whatever the case most people walk into potential conflict situations wanting a positive outcome (although some people just want to fight).

photo credit to: Jim Bowen

For those of you conflict avoidant folks out there you can choose to use the more palatable term, "hard conversation" in place of "conflict".

The truth is, many of us aren't taught healthy discussion guidelines so we naively walk into (or avoid) conflict situations utilizing a bevy of coping strategies that really have very little positive benefit.

Don't fret, There are 7 easy to implement tips for healthy discussions that you can implement right now, today, in any potential "hard conversation". 

These are particularly helpful for partners, spouses, parents, kids, best-friends or anyone else with whom you have a long-standing relationship with, but can be beneficial to implement with anyone with whom you want to have clear, honest communication with:


  1.  Nix the Phrase, "I have to talk to you": Think about the times someone has said that to you. Didn't you automatically go into defense mode? Yeah, me too. Try something less threatening like, "Oh hey, I was thinking...."
  2.  One Thing at a Time: Don't try and tackle every thing you ever wanted to talk about in one round. This will not only exhaust you and the person your talking to, but it also reduces the likelihood of any resolution. This is not the time to multi-task. You could risk seeming like a nag or negative Nancy- and nobody likes her.
  3. Jump Out of the Time Machine: There's a tendency to get into "serial arguments". You know, the phenomenon where every time you talk to your partner the same sh*t comes up over and over again. it's common and it's also has long-term damaging effects on the relationship. You'll save yourself a lot of time and resentment if you stay present with the issue at hand.
  4.  Set the Boundaries: Ensure that going into the conversation you make a deal that if someone begins to get very angry or upset that you can request a time out until emotions have cooled down a bit. Typically when resolution is desired anger is a barrier to that end. You may enjoy a good fight, but remember that your partner may not. Take a Karate class if you like to spar. You could even have a little white towel and literally "throw it in" when things get a little rough.
  5. Don't Make Promises You Can't/Won't Keep: Obviously threatening anyone emotionally or physically is counterproductive, but many people make promises they don't intend to keep like, "I'm leaving if you don't do _____". This is often interpreted as manipulative and very rarely yields long term positive results. The only time to talk about leaving is when you're really ready to leave.  Additionally don't make promises you know you can't keep.
  6. One and Done: Once you've satisfactorily settled an issue, leave it at that. Don't tackle too many (this echoes #2) but it's worth repeating. Another day, another issue.  It may not be perfect, but if you've managed to reach any kind of agreement call it a day.
  7. Celebrate: Do something fun! Hug, kiss, go out for ice-cream (or salted caramel gelato...). This is a positive reinforcement for successfully working through a discussion without attempting to kill each other or leave each other.

These may seem pretty common sense, and arguments still happen (and are sometimes necessary), but if both people can agree to keep some of the basic tenets of these guidelines, you could avoid an apocalyptic explosion (or if you're particularly WASPY, passive-aggressively stomping around the house giving each other the silent treatment whilst cutting your eyes over dinner). 

*adapted from clinical social worker and author Armand DiMele