Preventing Interpersonal Conflict

How do you deal with conflict? I’ve seen variations on this question appear frequently over the last several months. At first, I had next to no idea how to answer this question, nor was I able to give a decent example of where I’d dealt with conflict. Perhaps the current way I was acting was made it unlikely to arise? So, I’ve put some thought into it and found how you can minimise interpersonal conflict between yourself and others.

Not taking things personally

Sounds like trivial advice, though it’s a skill that many people haven’t developed or haven’t identified as an issue. You may get road-rage from other drivers purposefully trying to annoy you or believe that one person isn’t treating you as reasonably as they treat others. When you put it in perspective, this is rarely the case.

Unless they know you and you know they dislike you, you’ll rarely be treated negatively relative to how they treat others. Some biases and stereotypes may exist, though getting caught up in thinking about stereotyping and blaming those stereotypes will not help anything. If you feel like you’re getting mistreated by someone you don’t know, realise that they could just be a negative person or didn’t get enough sleep the night before.

Looking at the situation through the other person's perspective

Everyone else has their own objectives and values, we’re all different. Everyone makes inaccurate judgments and assumptions about others, it’s a part of life. People have various reasons for doing different things. Though it’s essential to not make too many assumptions about others.

If you believe that someone isn’t talking to you because they don’t care about you, then you’re much less likely to go and speak to them yourself. And if they do end up talking to you, you won’t be as friendly as before. Then the other person starts to make similar guesses about you, creating an unnecessary split through misunderstanding.

The other person may not be talking to you because they’re going through a busy period, they may not feel like it because they’re feeling down, or they might simply have other things on their mind. If any of these are true, it isn’t a reason to treat them worse or get annoyed at them — they have different priorities than you, and they may be doing it unknowingly.

Looking at the situation with a third-person view

You can easily see a situation through your first-person perspective, you can try to look at a situation through the second-person perspective (like in the paragraph above). Now consider the third-person perspective. Imagine looking at a situation as if you were an outside observer. You put all parties wants and needs into perspective, contemplating the emotions and feelings of all involved.

From this perspective, you can often find an optimal way to go forward that’s win-win for everyone involved. Finding a solution to any problem that benefits the other parties will often be accepted by them, and you can be happy with a solution that also helps you. If you only frame a problem by looking through your lens or the lens of the other parties’ eyes, then finding the win-win solution is much more difficult.

Seeing a situation through the third-person lens is beneficial in any case. Rather than trying to please yourself or the other person, try and do both at the same time. Looking through this lens may not yield any action, but at least can put you in a better emotional state because you feel you understand any given situation better.

Realise that others may have stressful things going on

If someone comes across as mean, rude, annoying, disrespectful, or is causing disruption, think twice about judging them negatively. Say if a father is letting his children be raucous and make a scene. You may feel that he doesn’t care about all the people that are getting annoyed by them.

What if you were told that they are a family who just lost their mother. You realise how quick to judge you were, people can be going through very stressful times and are not entirely ‘in the moment’ to deal with their children. Same goes for other people who seem rude; they could have gotten fired or dumped recently — they are just experiencing negative emotions, and you can’t let them get to you.

If you get annoyed and angry at others who are spreading negativity, then you may be next person doing just that — often unknowingly.

Release expectation

Placing expectation on how others will treat you sets you up to feel bad when you aren’t treated how you expect to be treated. It’s along the same lines as releasing attachment to outcomes, another useful tool for feeling less negative emotion. Perhaps you put too much expectation on someone else, and they didn’t deliver what you’d expect.

Remember that other people are not perfect. Placing too much expectation on outcomes and on how others treat you makes it easy to get annoyed and angry — when you should react with calm and perhaps even compassion. If you don’t get mad at someone, you may feel as if you’re rewarding them for bad behaviour, but in general, it is much better to fix issues through civil dialogue than letting emotions potentially carry you away.

Noting your negative emotions and letting them go

It’s easy to get annoyed or angry at others or at yourself. The sooner you detect that you’re in one of these states, the easier it is to release it. The quicker you notice that your emotions may spiral out of control, the easier it is to return to calm and deal with the cause of the emotion intelligently.

If this seems challenging, practising meditation really helps with this. Regularly practising guided meditation will help you identify the emotions you feel quicker in everyday life and will help you remain present in the moment without letting the emotion cause you to do something you’ll later regret.

There are many other things I could have written about, like trying to distance yourself from your ego, loving your enemy, choosing your battles, seeing conflict as a learning experience, practising better patience, and many more. I think that the things I did write about are probably the most important things to practice. Even if you knew all of this, it’s challenging to put it all into practice. Managing your reaction to others’ words and actions is a skill that almost everyone can improve in.

The next time you feel difficulty with others, don’t take things personally and see things as if you were above the situation. Reacting angrily will rarely help.