The Science Behind Conflict Resolution
Conflict is a natural outcome of human interaction. When two parties do not share the exact same knowledge, miscommunications can emerge. Small and large, they pose an obstacle to anybody engaging in any type of interpersonal relationship. Despite its inevitability, conflict can be mitigated, managed, and minimized– and can even be healthy! The most important element of conflict resolution is de-escalation. If a problem cannot be talked about calmly, then a problem cannot be solved rationally. Failure to de-escalate an interpersonal conflict can result in circumstances traumatic to a relationship; success in de-escalation can help two people come together against a problem and better prepare them for a future together. The main steps to verbal de-escalation are to acknowledge validity, reduce fear, introduce solutions, and then execute those solutions together by giving each person a role that’s acknowledged as important. (Even if that role is to support passively by cheering from the sidelines, so to speak)
The first step, acknowledgment of validity, is one of the most important. You must let your partner know that their concerns make sense and that they are understood. It is of vital importance to acknowledge what it is that is making him or her feel a certain way, and why those emotions lead to specific actions. For example, if one partner’s stressful job is causing them to take out their anger and irritation at home, it would be helpful to say, “I know how exhausting it must be to handle everything at work, and how frustrating it must be to deal with.” Next, the reduction of fear must take place. After acknowledging the validity of the others’ emotions and concerns in a calm manner, make sure both ends of the conversation are aware of how large the problem is objectively. More often than not, a problem feels larger than it actually is, therefore to focus on the size of the problem relative to something constant like the size of the relationship is important in reducing the fear and panic that the problem may inspire. For instance, in the same example as earlier, to reduce fear would sound something like, “This is nothing you can’t handle, and I’m always here to listen when there’s a problem and celebrate when there’s not.”
Only after the emotional climate is no longer toxic can a solution be presented. If your partner’s judgment is clouded by fear, or they feel as though their emotions and concerns are not understood, then they may feel that a solution you present is an accusation of incompetence or that you ‘just don’t get it’. Even once acknowledgment and fear reduction have taken place, a calm tone is vital for preserving a non-hostile climate and preventing escalation. Lastly, both parties must be involved in the solution, even if the job of one is to passively support the other. The purpose of a relationship is to be synergistic, and when a problem one person has affects both, then both sides must accept their role, whether that role is found simply in passive support or in executing the best set of actions.
“The Science Behind Conflict Resolution” was written for D’Arienzo Psychological Group by our 2019 summer intern and Stetson University Psychology Major, Thomas Henley.