How to Talk to Someone without Causing an Argument: The Secret of Conflict Prevention

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As children, we are taught many things that prepare us for adulthood. However, despite acquiring a variety of skills, many of us remain unclear about how to effectively deal with conflict. We often yell, slam doors or give the silent treatment, which can weaken our relationships and hurt other people’s feelings as well as our own.
With conflict being a normal and important part of our lives, it is good to know how to handle it better so that you can improve your relationships and how you communicate with others.

Here are some suggestions:

1. Calm down
Anger is a normal response to conflict but airing your frustrations with a heated discussion will only make the problem worse. When you’re angry, you lose the ability to think rationally, empathise and problem solve, which opens you up to being critical and possibly saying things you don’t mean. The other person then feels attacked and their natural response is to defend themselves.
Realising that your emotions are separate from what you’re arguing about is the first step to solving the issue. If the conversation becomes intense, take a break so you can calm down and revisit the problem later. You can say something like, “I’m feeling a bit frustrated so let’s get some space and talk again when we’re both calmer.”

2. What are you really arguing about?
There are usually two problems: what you’re arguing about and the underlying issue. Sometimes what we’re disagreeing about is a symptom of the real problem. Marriage and family therapist Sharon M Rivkin calls this the peel, reveal and heal method.

“…when we go beyond the surface of our fights, we switch from needing to be right to needing to understand what makes us react in certain ways and being able to communicate this…”

For example, if your husband is working late and you never spend much time together, the issue might be that you feel neglected in the relationship. Knowing the real problem can help you start a conversation without arguing and understand how you really feel to avoid similar arguments.

3. Have a conversation
The common ways we tend to handle conflict are:
• Withdrawing which is a form of passive aggression
• Criticising or blaming
• Using sarcasm or overt aggression
• Asserting that we are right and that others are wrong

These reactions are unhelpful. It is far more effective to have a conversation in a calm and non-confrontational tone. Listen to what the other person is saying, avoid interrupting and try to see things from their perspective. Tell them how their behaviour or the situation makes you feel, using “I” sentences rather than “you” and take responsibility for your part of the argument.
This gives both of you a safe space to discuss your deep feelings. Prior to having the conversation, it’s helpful to think of some solutions to the problem that involve a two-way compromise.

4. Develop the relationship
Strengthening the fabric of your important relationships is incredibly valuable for preventing conflict. When you invest time in developing good, healthy communication patterns and find ways to be open about preferences, expectations and grievances, then you create a strong foundation for managing tension when it arises.

Sometimes we’re not aware of our own behaviour and how it makes others feel. And we can also be quite affronted by the behaviour of others. It’s easy to judge, withdraw or react. However, when you equip yourself with the right tools and attitudes, you can be more sensitive to what causes conflict and benefit from having more peaceful relationships.


Resources
Book – Breaking the Argument Cycle: How to stop fighting without therapy. By Sharon M Rivkin

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