8 Tips for De-Escalating Conflict

man rubbing his eyes at work
••• Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

It’s safe to say that at some point in your college career you will be engaged in some form of conflict. Whether it be with your college roommate, working with a team for one of your class projects, or working with others doing community service or participating in an internship, research assignment or part-time job, conflict is one of those things that often just happens and if you find yourself unprepared to deal with it, it can pose some serious consequences.

Here are 8 tips for de-escalating conflict.

Don’t Avoid Conflict

Since conflict is sometimes unavoidable, trying to avoid it when it already exists can result in serious consequences. Keeping things to yourself when a problem arises will not only make you crazy but offers little to no chance of coming to a solution. By speaking up and communicating the cause of your stress, you are opening up the lines of communication which can then open up room for negotiation. If problems are left to simmer rather than addressing them in a calm and respectful manner, they can easily escalate into nasty remarks and heated arguments which may cause irreparable damage to an otherwise salvageable relationship.

Avoid Being Defensive

Being defensive is a tactic that does not lead to a positive outcome when dealing with conflict. Rather than listening to the other person’s point of view and understanding their complaint, many people often respond by defending themselves and not considering that there may be a middle ground.

Defensiveness can be problematic because instead of the other person feeling as if they’re being heard, they will walk away feeling discounted and not respected and an overall sense that the other person is not willing to work together in order to work things out.

Avoid Overgeneralizations

Overgeneralizing often adds fuel to the fire.

Statements like “you always” and “you never” are usually met with defensiveness and in most cases, they just aren’t totally true. Rather than coming together and both parties feeling that they’re being heard and respected, overgeneralizations are usually used to point the blame all in one direction.

Work to See Both Sides

Often there is no right way or wrong way of doing things and the ability to see both sides can take the steam out of any argument. In the situation of college roommates, you have two people who may come from very different backgrounds who are trying to live in one very small dorm room. One student may prefer to study with the music on while the other requires an early bedtime and resents the fact that they do not have a quiet space in which to retire. This is a situation where conflict resolution can be helpful by having two people working to find a way that will meet both of their needs by creating a win-win situation. For example, perhaps the student who is playing music can use headphones in order to not disturb the other roommate.

Avoid Playing the Blame Game

Resolving conflict is a great opportunity to help improve a situation and ultimately offers a way to create healthy relationships.

When you are in the heat of the moment and experiencing conflict, avoid playing the blame game where you come to believe and even express that nothing is your fault. By blaming the other person and not taking responsibility for your part of the problem, you are not being resourceful on finding ways to improve the situation and hopefully the relationship.

Avoid the Need to Always Being Right

By having to always be right and feeling that you have to “win” every argument, you are losing an important chance to develop a stronger and more honest relationship. Of course, no one likes the feeling that they’re accused of being wrong; and even if they are wrong, it’s important that they have the ability to save face. Feeling like you need to be “right” all the time usually comes from someone who is having a lapse in self-confidence.

Whenever you get into a discussion about "I’m right" and "you’re wrong", sometimes seeing the humor in the situation can be enough to de-escalate the conflict.

Don't Attack Another Person's Character

Making character attacks is one of the quickest ways to destroy any relationship. Rather than communicating what the problem really is and deciding that the other person has some sort of character flaw will never end up in a positive outcome. Declaring that another person is lazy, inconsiderate or dishonest will only lead to bad feelings and perhaps retaliation with no chance of improving the situation or the relationship.

Don't Close Down Communications by Stonewalling

By stonewalling and not listening or taking the other person’s complaints seriously, you will most likely create a feeling of frustration in the other person that could potentially ruin the relationship. No one likes to feel as if they are not being listened to, and by ignoring them and what they have to say, you are basically saying that you do not care about their opinion and that you do not respect the relationship.

De-escalating conflict all boils down to effective communications and maintaining respect. By respecting others and really listening to what they have to say, you will be well on the road to resolving conflict rather than escalating it and making it worse.