How to Handle Conflict in Relationships

Sheri Coburn

workplace conflict, conflict resolution, workplace culture, leadership, management, interpersonal conflict, conflict

FACT: Spending more time in conflict can IMPROVE your personal and professional relationships.

Throughout my work as both a family counsellor and business consultant, I have noticed a common theme emerge that can significantly undermine both personal and professional wellness: conflict. Interestingly, conflict itself is generally not the primary presenting issue. Rather, issues arise with the actions or inactions taken in response to conflict.

Under the overarching umbrella of conflict, certain myths tend to emerge. These myths include: mistaking conflict for confrontation, avoiding conflict, and falsely believing conflict does not exist or is unhealthy. They undermine effective conflict management and have been responsible for the breakdown of many personal and business relationships.

The health of the relationships at the centre of any system, whether personal or professional, is the most important predictor of their success. Conflict needs to be accepted as a common dynamic in every relationship – recognizing the myths that surround it will improve your comfort and capacity for managing it.

 3 Common Conflict Myths

Myth: Conflict is the same as confrontation.

Conflict is a natural and expected part of living and working with others. Differences in age, gender, opinions, upbringing, personality, culture, life experiences, and beyond all make conflict inevitable. How we manage a differing of perspective, opinion, or desired outcome determines whether it remains a conflict, becomes resolved, or turns into a confrontation.

Acknowledging differences, working to quiet or overcome them, and working through the impacts when we can’t are all part of managing conflict. Yelling at each other, shaming people for their opinions, or insulting one another’s intelligence is confrontational. People who are good at conflict management and resolution know this and do not create or get pulled into confrontations.

Spending more time in conflict can IMPROVE your personal and professional relationships.
Myth: Avoiding conflict is an effective resolution strategy.

We all know the person who claims to be “easygoing” or that they “don’t let things bother them.” Maybe this is true in some instances, but it can’t be true in all. If you describe yourself this way and have never struggled to make a decision, been in the middle of a challenging argument, or offered a different opinion than the majority, you are most likely in denial, resentful, or possibly oblivious to the fact that you may currently be in conflict with someone.

Another common sentiment used to avoid conflict is, “I don’t like confrontation.” Make no mistake, not liking confrontation is a good thing – but not liking conflict is personally and professionally dangerous. Too often, “easygoing” or “I don’t like confrontation” are used as excuses to avoid difficult conversations, uncomfortable topics, challenging bad ideas, or setting reasonable boundaries with yourself or others. Over time, these unresolved conflicts in both personal and professional settings break down trust and act as a breeding ground for resentment.

Myth: Conflict is unhealthy.

Because conflict often centres around competing feelings, issues, or perspectives within oneself, between people, or among groups, it also comes with the potential for personal growth, the birth of new or better ideas, or an increased understanding of others. The potential for personal and professional evolution that can come as a result of conflict makes it healthy. That being said, the way we manage (or don’t manage) conflict can be unhealthy.

Mismanaging conflict inadvertently gives it a bad rap and prevents us from seeing the people involved and their approach to conflict as the problem. Building a skillset in effective communication and conflict resolution is critical for promoting increased comfort in approaching and capitalizing on the benefits that can come from conflict. It is not uncommon to find managing an internal struggle, approaching someone you disagree with, or trying to quiet the tensions that exist among a group uncomfortable. In fact, a key part of conflict resolution is working through the discomfort and still choosing to explore and address internal and external tensions.

Conflict is healthy – It’s how we manage it that can be unhealthy.

Four Ways to Build Your Capacity for Conflict

Find out what your conflict style is. Do you have a common approach to conflict? Does your approach differ between personal and professional settings? In what ways can your approach help or aggravate conflict dynamics? Do you set good boundaries with people? Can you say no?

Take an inventory of your personal and professional relationships. What role might unacknowledged conflict be playing on the current health and wellness of your relationships? Are you in a position where you are expected to assist people in navigating their personal or professional relationships? Are you equipped to do this?

Assess what you know about conflict. Do you have a formal understanding of conflict dynamics? Are you aware of the patterns that present when conflict is escalating? Are you able to determine when getting involved in a conflict would be beneficial and when it wouldn’t?

Take a Conflict Resolution Course. What is one thing you can do to build your comfort and capacity in Conflict resolution? Is there an online course, webinar, or workshop you can take?

In Conclusion:

  • Conflict is inevitable, but confrontation is optional.
  • Don’t pick every battle.
  • Conflict is healthy – It’s how we manage it that can be unhealthy.

If you’d like to learn more about how to manage conflict, sign up for our newsletter to receive a free Conflict Resolution Skills e-manual.


For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.

Author: Sheri Coburn
Trainer, ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership

To receive notification of a new blog posting, subscribe to our mailing list or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

© ACHIEVE Centre for Leadership (www.achievecentre.com)
Interested in using the content of this blog? Learn more here.