How to Have a Constructive Conflict

When you're struggling with an issue and you just need to talk about it because you can't stop thinking about it, it can leave you feeling frustrated, angry and sad. When this happens, it's important to bring your problems to the surface, and deal with them constructively. Otherwise, they will not go away. However, at the same time, you don't want to burst like an ugly bubble all over someone, because they will respond badly. Instead, seek the way of having constructive conflict to resolve your concerns effectively and harmoniously.


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    Think about the problem you are experiencing. It is important to do some self reflection before attempting to broach the subject with them; this allows you to identify your feelings, assess your wants and work out the options for bringing the matter up in a fair and considerate manner. Some things to consider include:
    • What impacts is this having on your relationship, activities, everyday life? On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly does the problem impact you?
    • Does this matter cause you a lot of trouble or is it something you could move on your own through given time and some space? If you don't know, then assume it's not something you're okay with working out on your own.
    • Is this a recent problem or is there a pattern of behavior or actions that are causing you problems?
    • Has anyone else commented on it in such a way as to make it clear that there is an objective issue? This can help you to realize it's not imagined or skewed perspective on your behalf.
    • In what ways would you like to see this matter resolved? Write these down, as this will help you to see the issues and perhaps to draw up pros and cons of not dealing with it and of dealing with it.
    In your reflection, look for answers about what you'd like to see happen if the problem were resolved and the way in which you see the relationship with the person at the heart of the problem evolving from the point of resolution.
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    Think about how your own involvement or perception might be causing a false picture of things. This isn't about blaming yourself––it's about working out whether you're a contributory factor in the difficult situation, so that you can work out ways that you might be able to change and things you might be prepared to offer as a compromise involving such changes from your side of things.
    • An example of this could be feeling left out in a group situation because of a certain friend. Perhaps you feel that one of your friends hogs the limelight or is in some way hampering your full involvement within the group. Things to consider might be:
      • Are you perhaps a little jealous of your friend?
      • Have you contributed in any way to causing your friend to act in this way?
      • Are you expecting too much of this person, or perhaps hoping he or she will mind read?
      • Has it happened before and you didn't handle it very well? Realizing this can help you to see how you might have used non-constructive methods in the past that need to be set aside before approaching fixing the problem this time.
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    Approach the person who is causing the tension in your life. Start with an "I statement." This standard tactic ensure that you do not attack the person in question. For example: "I have been feeling very sad lately because I am being left out in our group." This explains your feelings and how it is impacting you. Wait for a response.
    • It is also a good approach to own up to your own contributions in the matter. This can help the other person see immediately that you're keen to resolve the conflict, not add fuel to it. Use the reflection done at the outset to help you to see how you may have contributed to the problem and own up to it.
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    Gauge how the friend reacts. The manner in which the other person reacts will tell you a lot about their willingness to interact with you and sort out the matter in a constructive way. If the person is close to you, such as a friend in the example above, or a spouse, this person may not have realized what they had done to upset you. If you've explained it clearly, this gives them an opportunity to explain how they see things, and they may also apologize. The main thing now is that the other person is aware of your feelings.
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    Respond positively when the other person respects your feelings. If the other person becomes concerned, open up to them. Let them know how you feel. By not attacking the other person, it is probable that this person will feel more encouraged to help you and will be willing to allay your concerns.
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    Respond constructively when you receive a negative response. If the other person is negative about your feelings or perception of the situation but is willing to talk, then consider discussing it further and trying to find an acceptable compromise. Use the reflection you did before bringing up the matter as your source of compromises that you're willing to make. Make constructive suggestions and see where these lead the two of you. Hopefully, with some willingness on both sides, you can reach an agreement on the way forward that suits both of you.
    • Realize that some people are distressed or surprised at being the source of pain for another person. Their initial reaction may be one of shock that you've perceived their behavior in this manner, and it may just take them some time to digest the news before they can agree to further discussion with you. Always allow for this and make space for later discussion, when they've had time to think it through.
    • Conflict can be fruitful and useful for working out each other's boundaries. A disinclination to accept fault isn't the end of the matter; it is just the beginning of a chance to air issues and get them sorted out so that your future relations are more certain and your boundaries are clear.
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    Cut your losses if the person is deliberately upsetting you. In some cases, the other person may not care or may have deliberately been angling to cause you to feel the way that you do, such as feeling left out, ignored or belittled. In this case, do not lose your temper or act helpless. Realize that this person has their own agenda and issues that you are probably not going to overturn, and quite possibly, it's not worth the effort to even try. That's up to you. If you do feel that this person is mean-spirited to the core, consider the following, all the while remaining as calm as you can:
    • Inform the other person that you are upset at learning how indifferent he or she is toward you and your feelings. Let them know that this treatment is upsetting for you.
    • If they refuse to answer or assist in explaining, you can end things by saying, "I don't feel very comfortable. I think it's clear that this isn't going to be resolved for now. I'll come back later." This gives you an exit strategy, with the possibility of coming back if wished.
    • If the other person is nothing more than rude, belittling or angry, stay calm. Let them know that you are willing to listen to them when they feel ready to talk. Don't pass judgment, just leave.
    • If this person does not make an effort to include you, build a bridge between you or keep your best interests at heart, then it may be best to distance yourself from them for good. If this person does not care about your feelings, let them know you are upset with how they are treating you but don't remain in their presence.


  • Conflict is always resolved some way when the issue is brought up calmly.


  • Don't assume that defensiveness is permanent. In some people, denying that their actions have had a certain impact on you is a form of coping with being outed for behavior that they know well themselves should be reined in. Such persons can often be helped to come around with care, attentiveness and a lack of judgment.
  • Some people incite conflict as a form of attention-seeking or getting their own way. These people are unlikely to participate in constructive conflict resolution. These are the persons who do not care for your feelings and who probably never will; they're a minority but they're not worth continuing to feel conflicted about.

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Categories: Managing Arguments