Sometimes, when a conflict arises, it can be hard to know how to react or what to do. Tensions can be running high, and things can be really confusing and intense for a while. Knowing how to handle conflict is a complex and sometimes difficult issue, and knowing where to start can be really helpful for some. In this post we’ve worked together to lay out some helpful tips and discuss these important topics.
Valuing all emotions and feelings, even negative:
First, if there’s one thing that it’s important to always remember, it’s that you and all of your feelings are valid and important. It doesn’t matter if those feelings are positive or negative, they’re a part of who you are at that moment, and you are always important. I know it’s easy to think that feelings like annoyance, disappointment, sadness, or anger should be pushed away because you “shouldn’t” be feeling them, but that’s quite simply, not true! We never feel things for “no reason” and if there’s a reason, we should acknowledge that and do something about it!
In the case of emotions like disappointment and sadness, there’s not always anything we can do other than acknowledge them and try to take care of ourselves–which is important enough as is, so please always remember to do that!!–but with emotions that are more directed at other people, there are a lot of things we can do to actually address and solve the problem.
If your feelings are hurt by something someone says, keeping that hidden from them will often lead to a build-up of resentment and can really put a tremendous (and often unnecessary) strain on your relationship. On the flipside though, if you put a proper amount of value on what you’re feeling and you can put yourself in a suitable frame of mind to actually talk to your friend about what’s bothering you, there’s so much good that can come from it! If they accidentally said something insulting they can apologize (it’s unfortunately easy enough to not notice that you said something offensive, if you’re not told), and if you actually disagree about something, you can have a respectful discussion which can actually really strengthen a friendship!
Being open about your feelings is sometimes hard to get used to, and you should certainly never feel pressured to talk about something that you don’t want to talk about, but it can also be very important and beneficial. When you admit that you’re feeling something, it validates that feeling in some unconscious way, making it more real...because it is real. If you don’t feel ready to tell an actual person something, that’s okay, but just acknowledging and validating your emotions in whatever way you can is so important to coming out of a conflict with no bruises on your mental/emotional health. You, and how you feel, are always important and of worth.
Respecting other people’s emotions and beliefs:
A big part of a respectful debate or discussion is respecting what the other person (or people) think and believe, and what their emotional needs are.
I know that this can be a hard thing to do, especially if you are discussing or debating a controversial topic, but it’s extremely important to listen to, hear, and respect the other person or people involved, even if that means taking a step back, or temporarily dropping a topic you’re passionate about.
Here are a few tips for knowing how and when to respect someone’s boundaries, and to know when to take a step back - all of which can be hard to figure out when to do!
Pay attention to the other person’s reactions. This might seem like an obvious one, but sometimes reactions can be really subtle. Is the other person becoming more and more anxious? Frustrated? These can be signs that you should take a step back in the discussion.
Listen to them. Listen to what the other person is saying, and then take that into account, even if what they’re saying seems irrelevant to you or your experiences. And if the other person wants to take a break from the discussion, or wants to stop talking about it altogether, respect that and honor their wishes.
Don’t invalidate someone’s beliefs. Everyone is different, and everyone has different beliefs. This is a big part of who we are, and it’s what makes us so unique. And because of that, it’s important to remember to listen to and not invalidate someone else’s beliefs, even if those beliefs or opinions seem foreign, strange, or “wrong” to us.
Acknowledge emotions. Is the topic at hand distressing for the other person? Is it making them sad or angry? If someone is becoming emotional, or if the topic is causing distress for someone, it’s a good idea to take a step back and check in to make sure that they’re okay. Making other people feel heard and respected is a huge part of a friendly discussion or debate.
Looking at it from the other person's point of view:
Although it may be hard at times, it’s also important to see the situation from the other person’s point of view. Often, our feelings can overwhelm us and make us feel defeated, emotional, angry, or upset. Even though you’re feeling all these things, (which are valid!!), it’s also important to think about what the other person is feeling. Did you say something that might’ve been hurtful? How do you think that impacted the other person? Is there something else that has happened in this person’s life that is triggering a response? By putting yourself in their shoes, you’re able to understand why the person that you’re having the conflict with is reacting the way that they are. Past experiences often shape us in ways that we might not consciously realize, and often, we use defense mechanisms when we argue with someone. These include but are not limited to; ignoring the other person, yelling, closing up, needing space, putting up walls, etc. We use these to try and protect ourselves, but often they can result in hurt feelings and confusion on the receiving side of the situation. By thinking about the way someone else’s brain works, or the way that someone thinks, acts, or does things that they do, you’re able to understand the other side of the situation in a better way. Just remember to not make assumptions! Talking it out and understanding what the other person is feeling is important because we can’t read other’s thoughts. I know it can be difficult, but this will prove helpful in so many cases. Getting worked up and angry about your side of the argument will often result in explosions and bad reactions. Take a step back and examine it from the other person’s point of view. This will not only let them know that you’re taking what they’re saying into consideration, but also showing that you truly care about them and working out the issue you’re dealing with. :)
Communicating negative emotions:
Often we are encouraged to keep our negative feelings quiet. I don't think this is a healthy way to handle feelings. As long as they expressed and handled in a healthy way there is nothing wrong with sharing negative emotions. If someone says something that upsets you it's okay to communicate that.
Just saying "this made me mad" or "this made me sad" doesn't really help. Communicate why it made you feel that way. For example saying "I feel sad when you say this thing is stupid because I like it and I feel like you're calling me stupid". That allows the person to understand why the thing they said was hurtful. It gives them an opportunity to learn to communicate things in a way that won't unintentionally hurt others.
It's not stirring up drama to communicate when you've been hurt. It's okay to tell someone when they upset you. They very likely didn't mean to but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt you. Sharing your feelings is an important part of communication.
Communicating your beliefs and opinions:
Sometimes it’s also necessary to communicate a belief or opinion, rather than just an emotion. In these cases, it’s important to keep your emotions under control (please note that I’m not saying to hide them, just don’t lose control!), and be very clear about what you’re trying to say. Don’t say “I disagree, I could never support someone/something like that”, explain what it is that you don’t support (“like that” doesn’t mean much!), and then go on to explain what it is that you do support, and why.
We often treat the world like there are two sides to everything–good or bad, for or against, etc., but it’s actually a lot more complicated than that, and it’s important to make it clear what you believe in and why, rather than just coming across as the opposition, or even worse, the “enemy”.
Communication and explanation are just so important, and the best advice I can give for how to go about that is to really think about how whatever you’re saying may sound to someone, and to be sure to start with a clear and calm mindset.
Tips for calming down:
Being able to calm down after a disagreement, argument, or any other type of conflict is a really important skill to have, but it can also be tricky sometimes. Here are some tips to help:
Take a deep breath. Deep breathing is a simple and effective way to start calming down. Maybe close your eyes too, and just focus on your breath.
Step away. Sometimes one of the best things to do is just step away from what’s bothering you, and come back to it later. This gives you a chance to check in with yourself and work on calming down.
Talk about it with someone else. Venting to someone about something that’s bothering you can be a great way to calm down, and can help you feel a lot better. Ask if you can talk about what’s bothering you with a family member or friend. Sometimes just getting it out of your system and telling someone else how you feel can make a huge difference, and feel like a huge weight has been taken off your shoulders.
Distract yourself. Find other things to do, whether that’s art, reading a book, hanging out with friends or family, or maybe just taking a walk. This gives your brain a chance to process without you necessarily consciously thinking about it. That way when you go back to whatever was bothering you, you can more easily talk about it in a calm and mature manner.
Do something that relieves stress and tension for YOU. Everyone has different ways that they calm down or relax. Maybe that’s journaling, yoga or another form of physical activity, or listening to or making music. You probably know what helps you the most, and if you’re not sure, try and pay attention and try different things out, that way you know for the future.
Remember that we’re here for you:
After, or during, a discussion or debate, sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone, or to have a support system. The S2S mentors are more than happy to talk to you via PM or comments on the website (check out our latest board for details on that!), and just be there for you, regardless of what you need.
We care about all of you very much, and we want you to know that we are always here for you, no matter what you need, be that a virtual hug, advice, a space to talk or vent about whatever’s bothering you, or something else.
Also, this doesn’t just apply to when you’re having a debate and need someone to turn to. We’re also always here for you outside of debates and discussions. We want to be there for and support you in any way that we can. <3