Communicating In Conflict

by Stephen Boyd | November 30, 2005

Conflict is a disagreement with someone. Communicating in conflict is seen as a negative part of relating to people. But whether it is good or bad all depends on how conflict is handled. Conflict can be unsettling and unpredictable and cause people to react in a defensive manner. But if you learn another point of view in the process, and both people come out of the discussion with new and useful information, then certainly conflict can be viewed in a positive way. Here are some suggestions on how to handle conflict positively.

Seek to focus on the problem and not on the person. If you resort to name-calling or other derogatory remarks about the other person, you need to stop and have a cooling-off period. Try to keep emotion out of the discussion. When emotions are high, communication is low. In addition, when there is a deep respect for each other and a positive relationship before the conflict, the issue can usually be settled in a very civilized and mutually beneficial manner. That is one reason why you want to develop positive relations with people.

When in conflict, don't say, "You are wrong." This will immediately put the other person on the defensive—even if he or she is wrong.

Don't interrupt the other person. This will at the least anger the person and cause unnecessary additional conflict because of the interruption.

Don't raise your voice. Try to keep a calm manner to your speech and nonverbal actions. If anything, lower your voice or speak more softly.

Finally, do not make the other person look bad. You might even want to tell the person in private the error of his or her ways so that the individual will save face in front of peers.

If in the course of the disagreement, you discover that you are wrong or the discussion centers around an error you made, then immediately apologize. Ask for facts and listen to the answers you receive. Accept responsibility and promise specific steps to help correct the situation.

Finally, listen for something you can agree with. When that occurs, stress the area where you agree and then move to the area where you are in conflict. Once you reach an impasse again, then move back to where you agree and follow the procedure. Ideally, you will eventually resolve the conflict to both your and the other person's satisfaction.

In the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, "One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words." This can even be true with conflict if you respond to conflict in the ways suggested here.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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