We’ve all been there.
Maybe you’re exhausted at work and accidentally end up butting heads with a supervisor, or maybe things have boiled over at home and you suddenly find yourself in a shouting match over who forgot to buy toilet paper on their way home.
Before you know it, emotions have taken over and an otherwise inconsequential situation has turned into an hour-long conflict with someone you otherwise love or respect.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s no need to pay for anger management lessons or pick up a self-help book, because psychologists Susan Heitler and Susan Whitbournehave a few actionable suggestions that can help anyone begin to immediately de-escalate a conflict and come to a resolution that both parties can agree on.
It’s tempting to swallow up our emotions in order to avoid a conflict, but Heitler and Whitbourne say instead it’s important to acknowledge that our negative emotions may be trying to tell us something.
“Negative emotions help you by telling you that there’s a conflict — i.e. a decision ahead, something you want that you are not getting, or you are getting something you don’t want,” Heitler, a psychologist and author of “The Power of Two,” told Business Insider. “Like yellow highlighting, they signal to you pay attention and do something.”
However, “addressing a conflict with negative emotions in your voice invites the person you are trying to work with to get defensive,” she said.
While it’s important to check in with our own emotions, Whitbourne, professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said it’s also important to have empathy and stay in touch with the other person’s emotions as well. If you go into an argument only caring about your wants and needs, a win-win solution is going to be much harder to come by.
Instead, both psychologists suggest keeping a friendly tone when expressing your concerns and trying to understand the other point of view as well. Your tone of voice is the first key to resolving a fight quickly.
You could spend hours arguing over who’s right and who’s wrong, but the psychologists said a little empathy is the trick to ending a fight quickly.
“Access those feelings of empathy in which you put yourself in the other individual’s place,” Whitemore said. “Without being disrespectful of the other person’s unhappiness in the moment, you might even try to find a way to laugh yourselves out of the situation if it indeed was something ridiculous.”
Likewise, Heitler said it’s important for both parties to reiterate that they understand the concerns of the other person.
Another important step in resolving your own conflicts efficiently, say the psychologists, is to brainstorm not only solutions that work for both parties, but plans to actually achieve those solutions.
“At the time of the resolution, set forth the agreement that both of you will adhere to the decision that was mutually reached. This will help you push the reset button should the conflict begin again,” Whitbourne said.
Heitler also suggested taking time to make sure both parties understand the agreement the same way, and that no stone has been left unturned.
“End with this magic question: Are there any little pieces of this that still feel unfinished?” she said. “Then summarize the conclusion, especially what each of you will be doing as next steps, and you are good to go.”
Conflict is not always avoidable, say the psychologists, but how you approach the situation can make a world of difference in the outcome you see.
By checking in honestly with your own emotions, as well as honoring the emotions of the other person, you can begin to quickly find the root of the argument and come to a solution that works for both of you — without burning any bridges along the way.
Originally published on Business Insider.
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