How To Deal With Conflict

We are in the midst of winter here in New Zealand and it seems like the weather, together with a lot of financial, cultural and societal turmoil, is creating stress in many people’s lives.

This shows itself most clearly in our close relationships, those family and friends with whom we can be ourselves and where we feel safe enough to “let it all out”.

I thought it would be a good time to remind us all about the Nonviolent Communication method for resolving conflict and encouraging empathy, for ourselves and others.  

1. Observe The Situation

Observe the situation that is causing the conflict.  It can be helpful to imagine that you were watching it on a movie screen, free of any judgment of who did what and why.  

Try to avoid labelling the people involved (“She’s so mean!”) or assuming the intentions behind what they did or said.  (“He said that because he doesn’t really care about me.”)

2. What Are You Feeling?

How do you feel about what you observed?  In this step, it is important to understand that the external events are a trigger for, not the cause of your feelings.   Your feelings might be brought to the surface as a result of someone’s actions but their actions didn’t cause your feelings.

The more we can take responsibility for our feelings, the more empowered we are to take positive action in our lives.  

3. What Do You Need?

In fact, your feelings are usually caused by a need you have that is not being met in the situation.  (For example, you might have needs for acceptance and acknowledgment which are not being met and which cause feelings of sadness and hurt.)  

Take some time to explore what unmet needs are connected to the feelings that are coming up for you.  If you need help with this, here are lists of needs and feelings to help you recognise your own.

4. Request What You Need

Make a specific, actionable request that will help you to meet your needs.  Ask for what you need, without focusing on what you don’t want.  Remember that your request should never be a manipulative demand!   As Katy Butler says so well: "The difference between a request and a demand lies not in the sweetness of your speech but in whether or not you subtly punish anyone who says no."

What Does This Look Like In Real Life?

Let’s imagine that one of your employees is regularly late for the daily morning meeting.  


Mary, I have noticed that you have arrived late for our morning meeting every day this week.


When you come in late, I feel frustrated because you have missed important information that we discussed.  I also feel concerned about this change in behaviour because you are usually so conscientious.


I need to know that everyone on our team is informed and clear about their responsibilities each day. I also care about you as my employee and want to support you in any way you need.


Would you be willing to chat with me about why you have been coming in late? Is there any way that I can support you?

Once you have made your request, listen to the other person’s response.  If they are not willing to do what you are asking them to,  see if you can find out what their unmet needs could be that lie beneath their words.  Offer them empathy and explore ways to find a strategy that meets everyone’s needs.

This new way of dealing with conflict may feel strange at first, but I encourage you to keep practicing.  When working with clients, I have seen this simple 4 step process used in hundreds of conversations and I respect the power it has to bring new insight and understanding in any relationship.




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