Conflict Resolution

infographic depicting conflict between three people

...through Improved Communication Skills

To understand how to improve the way in which you deal with conflict, with your partner, it is first necessary to identify your communication style. There are three main styles of communication and most people tend to favour one style, the majority of the time. These are known as:

  • Aggressive
  • Non – assertive or passive
  • Assertive

The Identifying Characteristics of Aggressive Communication:

  1. It puts self first/ hurts others
  2. The aggressive person has low self esteem
  3. They have no or little respect for anyone
  4. There are four types of aggressive behaviour; verbal, non – verbal, passive & displaced

The Identifying Characteristics of Non – assertive Communication:

  1. It puts self last
  2. The non – assertive person also has low self esteem
  3. They have a lack of self respect or self value
  4. They practice limiting beliefs/ set things up for failure
  5. There are often pay offs/ rewards for continuing this style of communication

The Identifying Characteristics of Assertive Communication:

  1. It treats others as equals
  2. The assertive person has high/ healthy self esteem
  3. They have respect for others & their self
  4. They honestly expresses thoughts, feelings & needs

Conflict within a relationship can successfully only be dealt with, within a relationship, in an assertive fashion. There is no place for resolution of conflict by behaving or communicating either aggressively or passively.

How do Assertive People Communicate?

  1. They speak only for themselves, e.g. they don’t say ‘you make me feel.’ No-one can make you feel an emotion, it is a choice of responses
  2. They use the words ‘I, me or mine’ when explaining how they feel or what they need
  3. They make comfortable eye contact
  4. They have a comfortable body posture
  5. They don’t give confusing messages, e.g. body language and words match
  6. They listen to what the other person is saying
  7. The tone of voice and volume of speaking, is appropriate and non inflammatory


Learning to successfully deal with conflict within a relationship, takes practice! I usually recommend to couples or families that they take time out several times a week to learn how to do this. It is best to set aside a time when all members of the family involved in the discussion are not too tired or stressed, usually at the end of the day after dinner, children in bed, dishes done etc.The people involved will take turns to speak, up to 10 minutes at a time, without interruption from others, speaking assertively about one issue at a time. After they have finished, someone else can speak under the same guidelines and then take turns until the issue is either dealt with or it is necessary to take time out.

Basic Rules of Conflict Resolution:

For both the Speaker & the Listener:

  • Remain calm – don’t over react to situations
  • Express feelings in words, not actions
  • Be specific about what is bothering you
  • No ‘hitting below the belt’
  • Avoid accusations or abuse
  • Don’t generalise
  • Don’t ‘stockpile’ complaints
  • Avoid clamming up or going silent, two way communication is essential
  • Discuss only one issue at a time
  • Schedule a time that you all agree is okay – not when you are already tired or upset
  • Hear each other out before trying to solve the problem
  • Take turns to hold the floor – agree a timeframe for this before you start
  • Call time out if one of you becomes upset or angry and reschedule a time to continue


  • Attend to and encourage your partner
  • Don’t interrupt!
  • Hear your partner out fully
  • Give feedback to check your understanding
  • Reserve judgement
  • Don’t prepare your response whilst your partner is talking


  • Use ‘I’ statements
  • Own your feelings
  • Provide specific descriptions of problem behaviour
  • Make specific requests for change
  • Stay in the present
  • Complain but don’t blame
  • Describe what is happening, don’t evaluate or judge
  • Be clear
  • Be polite
  • Be appreciative

These rules may seem self evident but in times of conflict it is easy to overlook them. When trying to change the ways with which you deal with conflict, practice makes perfect!

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