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6 Keys To Resolving Conflicts Assertively

6 Tips for Resolving Conflicts Assertively

Table of Contents

Summary

Conflict is a normal part of living, but just because it is normal does not mean it is easy. There are many ways to resolve conflict, but assertiveness is often the best strategy in most situations. It is important to ask for what you need, but still be respectful to the other person. Here are 6 tips for resolving conflicts assertively!

How Normal is Conflict? 

When we think of the word conflict, we often think of screaming matches between friends, a physical altercation at a bar on the weekend, or even a war between two countries. However, conflict really can be more broadly defined as any kind of disagreement that you have with another person or institution. Sometimes those are large, like the examples previously noted. However, sometimes conflicts can be quite small and sometimes can be resolved with no escalation whatsoever.

For example, if you notice that your roommate borrowed your sweater, and you say that you are frustrated, so she apologizes right away, that is a conflict that probably doesn’t escalate. Similarly, if you are walking to class rocking your favorite sports jersey, and someone yells something about your team, you may feel a temporary twinge of annoyance but then just keep moving.  

Conflict is a normal part of living in a society made up of other diverse individuals. In some ways, conflict is very healthy: it challenges our thinking and helps us come to better solutions that work for more people. It is important to remember that having a conflict is not a reflection on you. It does not mean that you did anything wrong. It is an entirely normal part of being human. 

Why Do I Feel This Way? 

Just because conflict is normal does not mean it is easy. It can be very challenging to be in a conflict and not know how to handle it in a way that leads to a successful resolution. You might  feel frustration and anger because you feel that you have been wronged in some way. Or, you may feel like the other person is completely disregarding your needs or perspective.  

If a friend of yours has hosted a party three weekends in a row and not invited you to any of them, you might feel sad and disappointed. You may also feel hopeless that the situation won’t get better because it is recurring (this is especially true if you have already told your friend that you want to be invited). You could feel embarrassed about being the only one not there. Or maybe, you are feeling really mad about the whole situation. All of these feelings would be completely normal and valid for you to have.  

Because conflict can be challenging, it is helpful to have some tips to follow. It is also helpful to review three general terms into which all reactions to conflict can be placed: aggressive, passive, and assertive.  

Three General Ways to Resolve Conflict 

There are 3 general ways to resolve conflict. Aggressive, Passive, and Assertive.

Aggressive 

Most people already have a vision of what it means to react to a conflict aggressively. It is when someone yells, gets physical and/or uses insults to get their way. Often, this can lead to a resolution where the aggressor gets their way, but the others are disrespected. This method often makes the conflict escalate rather than get resolved. Thus, in many situations, it is not the ideal method to try. However, in moments of emergency or self-defense, being aggressive is absolutely an appropriate choice. 

Passive 

Reacting passively to a conflict is when you choose to avoid the conflict or not ask for your needs to be met. As with aggressive, there are times where this approach makes a lot of sense. If the issue is something relatively small, especially if it is an isolated incident, ignoring it and going about your day can be a wise choice. However, many times, we avoid conflicts even when the issue is something that is important to us. Though this may save us from an uncomfortable conversation in the short term, in the long term, being passive too often means that we are not having our own needs met. 

Assertive 

As you could probably guess, assertiveness is the best path to take in most situations. It is a happy medium between aggressive and passive: you are asking for what you need, but you are still doing so in a way that is respectful to the other person and still trying to understand their point of view.  

As you also may have guessed, assertiveness is also the most challenging way to approach conflicts. In some ways, it is easy to just avoid any confrontation. And we all have moments where we get frustrated and reply with a more aggressive tone than we intended. Being assertive does not come naturally for most people.  

6 Tips for Resolving Conflicts Assertively 

These 6 tips will help you be assertive when resolving conflicts!

1. Wait to Speak Until You are Calm

It can be hard not to have a conflict resolution conversation right away, especially when you are feeling frustrated. Sometimes the conversation can make you emotional. Still, do your best to have these difficult, but important dialogues when you are calm, and try to stay calm throughout. The more emotional we are, the more the rational part of our brain has a harder time functioning, making it challenging to come to a good solution. 

2. Use “I” Statements

“I” statements are very helpful in resolving conflicts because it is a way to ensure that you are stating your needs in the situation. They also generally open the door to a better reciprocal conversation. Try to remember, statements that feature the word “you” generally sound accusatory to the other person. This tends to lead to either denial or to blaming back. With that said, “I” statements can sound artificial sometimes. Don’t feel pressure to follow any sort of a script if that doesn’t feel natural to you! Just do your best to use the pronoun “I” instead of “you” as much as possible. For example, “I am feeling upset that you drank my last bottle of water without asking” sounds a little different than “How could you drink my last bottle of water?!” 

3. Listen to the Other Person

In a conflict, we often listen to respond rather than really listen to understand. To truly resolve the conflict, you need to try to understand the others’ perspective in the same way that you hope they are listening to understand you. You may even find it helpful to repeat or rephrase what the other person has said. This helps make sure that you understand the other person, and it also really shows that you respect them. 

4. Assume Good Intentions From the Other Person

When we are in a conflict, it is easy to think that the other person is intentionally trying to hurt us or that their interests are so misaligned from our own. However, this is typically not the case. When you get in an argument with your boyfriend, for example, it is likely that you both want your relationship to succeed; you just have different ideas about how to make it so. It is helpful when you are in a conflict to try to make statements to yourself such as “This other person wants to be happy…just like me. This person wants to be understood…just like me.” 

5. Be Solution-Focused

When you are in a conflict, it is easy to fall into the trap of generalities, saying statements like, “You never listen to me!” It is also easy to fall into the trap of bringing up wounds that haven’t quite healed from the past. However, as much as possible, try to focus on specific concerns from the present or the recent past, such as, “I was worried when I didn’t know you were running late, and I didn’t get a text.” That way, you can discuss a concrete action step (or steps) to take moving forward, which will decrease conflict over the same concern down the road. 

6. Compromise

With the above steps in place, you should be able to identify potential solutions for resolving conflicts that can work for both you and the other person. 

Scholarly Sources 

Center for Compassionate Leadership. (2019, September 3). Compassionate leadership practice series: Just like me. https://www.centerforcompassionateleadership.org/blog/compassionate-leadership-practice-series-just-like-me 

CLIMB Professional Development and Training. (2020, March 11). What are the five conflict resolution strategies? Portland Community College. https://climb.pcc.edu/blog/what-are-the-five-conflict-resolution-strategies 

Scott, E. (2020, August 22). Conflict resolution skills for healthy relationships. Verywellmind. https://www.verywellmind.com/conflict-resolution-skills-for-healthy-relationships-3144953  

Segal, J., Robinson, L. & Smith, M. (2020, October). Conflict resolution skills. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/conflict-resolution-skills.htm  

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