How To Break Down People's Walls to Resolve Conflict

Michelle Jaqua

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You’ve been overcharged for something and you recently noticed it on your bill. You call the number for customer service and you explain the problem to the person answering the phone.

They pass you to another person and you repeat your story. You get passed along three more times and now your fuming. By the time you get to the person who’s willing to help you, you’re irate.

Your partner comes to you because they’re upset about how you handled a situation and they want to talk to you about it. This is an ongoing problem between the two of you and you immediately become defensive.

You have reasons why you did this, and you start telling them your side of the story.

Before you know it, it’s turned into an argument. You both leave the conversation feeling upset, and no closer to solving the problem.

When conflict is mismanaged, it harms relationships.

There’s so many reasons behind why people don’t resolve conflicts well, but many times, the person chooses not to acknowledge the other’s needs and instead focus on their own needs being met.

“Conflict, when mismanaged, destroys.” -Benjamin Watson

You can break down just about anyone’s barriers and resolve conflict with them if you take the right approach. This can be a random stranger, a customer, or your significant other.

Learning how to resolve conflict in a positive way helps establish trust, and if you’re successful, you’ll strengthen bonds with them and grow your relationship.

A side note: Some people have poor coping skills. They WANT there to be a problem and as soon as you help solve one problem, they come up with another. They will try to scam you, or create problems that aren’t there. They will play games, gaslight you, or in some way will blame you for their problems.

Be aware and recognize these ploys. With any of these situations, you can still move forward in a more positive way and offer assistance to their problem as best as you are able.

Here’s some steps to take when you have a conflict with someone:

Accept the conflict happening in front of you.

When we’re having a hard time communicating with another person, whether it’s our partner, coworker, or family member, we may try to make the problem go away.

Ignoring the conflict or fighting back will not solve the problem. This will only intensify the conflict for the next time around, and then you’ll have a bigger issue to deal with.

“Running away from the problem only increases the distance from the solution.” -Anonymous

When someone has a conflict, they may not initially express it for many reasons. When they finally do address it, it can come out as emotionally charged and unreasonable.

If the person has difficulty coming to you with a problem, then there may be times where they will wait, build up resentment, then show hostility when they finally come forward. This will come out as unreasonable and unsolvable.

A lot’s been happening with them prior to this initial interaction. Understand that there may be more there than meets the eye.

The person may not feel unreasonable at all. They’ve gone over and over the problem in their own mind before they’ve even approached you. They may focus on only one piece of the problem, but most likely, there’s a whole underlying story. No need to figure out their entire story, just know it’s probably there.

“A problem is a chance for you to do your best.” -Duke Ellington

Having a reputation for being a rational person who can listen to others and be open to conflict is the best way to have people open up to you.

If you’re not known as this type of person, you can still start! It requires an open mind and reserving judgment.

Can all problems be solved? It depends. It’s up to you to have a positive mindset that makes the difference. You must be willing and able to help them work on their problem.

Imagine the other person has another emotion besides anger.

When a person comes into a conversation expressing anger, many times they are masking other complex emotions: sadness, fear, insecurity, even jealousy, or regret. Or a combination of them.

Anger is the second stage of grief.

It’s much easier to express these feelings as anger, because it’s a rightful emotion that doesn’t need vulnerability, and it’s an emotion that gets a lot attention from other people.

If breaking down barriers and wanting to resolve the issue is your goal with the other person, look at them and listen to what they are saying.

Is there another emotion they are expressing underneath? It’s easier to be compassionate with someone if you identify another emotion with them besides anger.

“I sat with my anger long enough, until she told me her name was grief.” -Unknown

If they are scared, or experiencing grief or regret, these feelings are often masked as anger. Understand that you may be working with someone who is undergoing a challenging situation for themselves, that,s difficult to deal with, and they’re experiencing a range of taxing emotions.

Set your boundaries with them.

Sometimes, people are irrational or demanding in ways that will make you angry, defensive, and judgmental. Sometimes, they will be insulting, demeaning, and triangulating. In other words, a manipulative asshole.

Even if they are experiencing intense emotions, it’s not acceptable to tear the other person down.

Trying to work with someone who is so worked up they are yelling, swearing, or calling you names, is impossible.

Trying to calm them down is also impossible. They need to calm themselves down if they want to solve their own problem.

Set your boundaries with them. Let them know up front what you will not tolerate from them. Let them know you’ll listen to them and work through the problem with them, but you will not take their abuse.

If they continue, tell them you’re stepping away, but you’re willing to talk with them when they are respectful.

Understand where the other person is coming from.

If you want to resolve conflict smoothly, release your own agenda. Hang up your ego, your need to be right or to get your own way, and work to resolve the conflict with the other person.

The last thing a person wants when they are presenting you with their problem, is for you to focus on your own needs. In essence, it’s like telling them they are wrong for thinking, feeling, believing in what they’re experiencing.

When you counteract a person with your own beliefs, which may be in contradiction to theirs, you’re only setting yourself up for a fight.

A person who’s emotionally conflicted is less likely to be practical, problem solving, and open-minded to other people’s problems and needs.

They are emotional, and they want to be heard.

Put yourself in their shoes and work to understand where they’re coming from. If this is difficult for you, then reflect back what they’re saying to you. Saying their words back to them is good validation.

If there’s wrongdoing on your part, admit it and apologize.

Sometimes people only want an apology. Give it to them.

Swallow your pride, it doesn’t do you any good in this situation. It’s better to come together with the person and resolve the conflict than to be arrogant and prideful.

Taking responsibility for your part of the problem is one of the best ways to break down the other person’s barriers. Think about how you feel when someone has truly apologized to you for something wrong. It is a healing of your heart and it makes you feel loved and understood.

If you have a hard time saying “I’m sorry”, I encourage you to start doing it now. See what kind of reaction you get. You may be quite surprised.

Give a heartfelt apology. Don’t apologize with “I’m sorry you feel that way.” That’s only demeaning to the other person.

Ask them how they want to solve the problem.

Believe me, when a person comes in with a problem, they are also coming in with their own solution.

They want something accomplished and they want it done their way. Even if their solution is irrational, in their mind, it’s not.

When you have a person who’s irrational, they will become even more irrational if you escalate them by shutting them down or ignoring their needs because you disagree with them.

Just because you wouldn’t solve the problem the same way, doesn’t mean you can’t help them solve their problem.

“The best way to get along with people is to not expect them to be like you” -Joyce Meyers

If you want to know how to help solve their problem, just ask. Don’t assume you know, you may be wrong.

By asking them how they want to solve the problem, you present to them being their partner, instead of their antagonist. You will break through the conflict with them.

And the solution may be even simpler. If you’re able to give them what they want, it’s a win-win.

Work with them, not against them.

Sometimes, a person just needs to be heard. But you have to ask them, you can’t assume what they need. It’s their desires, not yours. But if there’s more, then it’s time to work with them on solving the problem.

However, you are not going to be able to solve their problem. You can only help them direct you on how they want you to help them solve their problem. You are their partner, not the “fixer.”

Sometimes, they have a very reasonable solution to their own problem and they need your help.

If you work up to this point using all the previous steps, a solution has probably already materialized. But if not, then ask them.

If the solution sounds irrational to you, don’t immediately say no. You can explore further as to why they want to solve it in that particular way. If that doesn’t work, is there another way they’d like to solve the problem?

“The buck stops here.” -Harry S. Truman

This is an excellent way to work with the person. It puts control and responsibility back into their hands. It makes them feel like they are going to be able to get what they wanted, or see it as reachable.

Work to solve the problem immediately.

Once they tell you what they want to do to solve the problem, make it happen right away. Don’t tell them you’ll do it next Tuesday and leave them hanging. Give them some gratification. Put them at ease. Provide your part of the solution and be grateful for solving a problem for someone. That’s a powerful thing.

“Every problem is a gift. Without problems, we would not grow.” -Anthony Robbins

Remember, this is not about you. This is a selfless act you’re giving to another person, to show them they are important and they matter. When you give this gift to another person, you’ll find a stronger bond between the two of you, and you’ll also find that you’ve also done something that matters for another person. In return, you’ll see that you also matter in this world.

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Michelle Jaqua is a freelance writer who lives in the beautiful state of Oregon. She writes about a variety of news and happenings in the Pacific Northwest, along with some PNW history and fun facts. Subscribe to her page and get her posts in your email.

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