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Navigating differences of opinions in relationships

There’s a lot to disagree about these days, whether it’s our values or opinions, the way we work or view success - and everything in between. So when it comes to our relationships, romantic, platonic or working, there are bound to be times these differences rear their heads. Although many of us would rather run or hide from conflict, it’s not all bad, if we have the skills to resolve it. So keep reading to find out how to develop these and confidently resolve future conflicts.

Perfect compatibility is rarely possible, between families, friends, colleagues and partners. Yet we’ve built a picture of perfection that many of us are aiming for, only to be disappointed when inevitable disagreements do arise. But the issue isn’t the conflict, it’s our ability to resolve them.

Working through incompatibility is possible when we develop our conflict-resolution skills. Maybe you and your partner frequently disagree on whose turn it is to take the bins out. Or perhaps there’s a colleague at work who frequently ignores URGENT emails you send. You might have found out that your partner doesn’t share the same ideas for your future together. You might find it difficult to communicate ideas with your boss or come to an agreement about how to complete tasks.

We could find almost anything to disagree on with others, we’re all different, with different genes, backgrounds and experiences that have shaped us. So it’s not surprising that conflict arises. Just because it’s quite normal though, doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant thing to experience.

Hence, most of us fear the thought of it. Even disputes over small things can be emotionally challenging for us, we’ve all experienced a silly argument that’s ended in tears or heated debates about ideals in society. We also know how uncomfortable it can be to call a friend out for not making any effort recently or talking to our partners about money or even butting heads with colleagues.

When we can successfully navigate conflict, disputes, or disagreements to find resolution, it’s actually a lot less daunting, we find satisfaction with our relationships, and ultimately reduce our stress levels - and who couldn’t do with a bit of that lately?

Ways to develop useful skills for navigating disagreements

Being aware of how we’re feeling during conflict is a key skill to develop for effective resolution. When we are aware of what we’re feeling, we’re better able to manage them and respond rather than react throughout. Other useful skills include empathy, curiosity, communication, and acceptance. So how can we build these skills?

Take responsibility - it takes two to tango, even in disagreements. Of course, the fault could lie more with one person, there’s likely still some responsibility to take. Denying responsibility often only escalates a disagreement. Say a work colleague gave you some critical feedback, and maybe you overreacted getting annoyed or storming off. Taking responsibility for our actions, and addressing the reason for them, as well as the colleague accepting some responsibility for their words, can help us stay calm. In turn, we can be more empathetic with each other, and communicate more effectively.

Commit to a positive resolution - almost like setting a boundary, when we address conflict or disagreements we can commit to a positive resolution, which looks like taking a break to cool off if we can’t remain positive for whatever reason. For example, in an argument with your partner, you might take a moment to suggest committing to finding a solution together, positively. Both agree that if this isn’t working, you take a break and come back to it when you can. Because it can be challenging to remain positive in conflict, and setting this ‘boundary’ can maintain connection throughout. Helping us to accept conflict, and improve our communication skills.

Challenge the agreement rather than the person - when we are challenged or feel attacked in conflict, it’s easier to become more upset or angry, and therefore harder to navigate. Rather than attacking the person, direct the conversation around the behaviour or action. This might look like using ‘I’ statements, such as ‘I don’t feel like I’m being heard”, rather than “you’re not listening”, or talking about the action separately from them, like “the lack of response to emails makes it difficult to collaborate”, rather than “it’s impossible to work with you when you ignore my emails.” This allows us to approach conflict with curiosity (rather than emotional fuel), communicate and hold empathy towards each other.

Practice intentional communication - we cannot read each other’s minds so we have to practice being open with our thoughts and feelings, especially when it comes to conflict resolution. Using ‘I’ statements to communicate how we’re feeling about something, listening actively (not thinking about what to say next or the best comeback), and finding appropriate times to be intentional in conversations can help us amicably resolve disagreements. Of course, this develops our communication skills, as well as helps us to accept that differences arise.

Expect some disagreement from time to time - we don’t mean it in a negative way, assuming you’ll fall out with everyone you meet at some point. But expecting to disagree, be challenged or bicker from time to time can help us feel more comfortable about trying to resolve it. When we accept things we find them a little bit easier to manage. We feel better able to approach conflict with curiosity, empathy and acceptance, as well as prepare for effective communication.

So a healthy resolution that leaves our relationships intact, as well as our feelings (in the end at least), is perfectly doable, for all. We just may need to refine these skills a little first - because no one’s perfect. This also means, even with the most refined skills, conflict can still arise and be challenging to deal with, but we are at least equipped to.

If conflict is interfering with your working life, you and your partner or even friends are regularly disagreeing or arguing, or you’re feeling down or drained after spending time together you may need to consider the future of the relationship and seek support, in your work or personal life. Not all conflict needs resolving, especially if it’s beginning to interfere with our wellbeing.




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