Ask Conflict Resolution: how to avoid drama and damaged relationships

Guest Author

Welcome, Rams!  As you might have already guessed, it’s going to be a big year packed with interesting people, new ideas and perspectives and challenges.

This can lead to a lot of fun, excitement and personal growth. It can also lead to conflict. In fact, you’re pretty much guaranteed to experience disagreements and disputes with friends, roommates, co-workers, professors and/or classmates at some point during your time here at CSU, and that’s okay. While most of us have had bad experiences with conflicts in the past, there are many things you can do to avoid drama, hurt feelings and broken relationships that can come with conflicts.

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Typically, in this column, the Conflict Resolution staff at CSU answers your questions about real-life conflict situations. However, since the new school year is only just beginning, we’re going to start this year’s column off with a list of helpful tips of what to do — and not do — when you find yourself in a conflict situation.

Do: Let someone know if they do something that bothers you.  No one can read your mind and problems that go unaddressed can fester and become worse.  So, if someone does something that bothers you, let them know sooner rather than later.

Do: Talk about problems in person.  When addressing difficult issues, talking face-to-face is usually the most helpful way to communicate.  Though emails and texts are convenient, it’s easy for these messages to be (horribly) misinterpreted, since they don’t convey your tone of voice or facial expressions.  Use texts or emails to schedule a meeting, but save the real discussion until then.

Do: Cool down before you engage.  Conflicts can cause emotions to become very heated and when you’re very upset the critical thinking part of your brain is literally less active. It becomes super easy to say and do things you’ll later regret.  Give yourself permission to take a break and reflect before trying to resolve the issue.

Do: Assume the other person is reasonable.  When others do things that upset us, it’s very common to believe that they did it on purpose or because they’re an a**hole.  The truth is that most of the time people are just trying to get their own needs met, and might not be thinking of how their actions impact you.  So try to view the person as reasonable, even if you disagree with their behavior.  See if you can think of some reasonable motivations for their behavior.  On the off-chance that they really are an a**hole, this technique will still help you stay calm and communicate more effectively.

Do: Focus on the behavior, not the person.  When we’re frustrated with someone’s behavior, it’s easy to start making personal attacks, such as calling someone selfish, lazy or immature.  Unfortunately, this will likely only make the other person defensive and less likely to change.  Instead, focus on the actions or behaviors that bother you.  For example, “I feel annoyed when you leave and don’t lock the door, because I worry about my stuff being taken.”

Do: Try to find a win-win.  Conflicts don’t have to be a zero-sum game. Many times, it is possible for conflicts to result in outcomes that leave everyone satisfied. Try to compromise and collaborate and see if you can find creative solutions that work for everyone.

Do you have any helpful tips of your own? If so, email them to Brooke.Wichmann@colostate.edu, along with any real-life questions you have about conflict. They may be featured in an upcoming article. And, if you ever find yourself in a difficult conflict situation, remember that as a student, you have access to Conflict Resolution staff dedicated to helping you find the best solution.  To schedule a private appointment or learn more, visit conflictresolution.colostate.edu.