Conflicts are never easy to handle. When we feel emotional pain, there are parts of us that long to feel validated and understood. The problem for many of us is that we happen to communicate in a way that actually pushes others (especially our partners) away from us, rather than creating a space of comfort and understanding.

I have realized that in the heat of an argument, it’s far easier to say what I shouldn’t say rather than what I really need to say. Is that true for you as well? The problem with expressing our feelings in a negative way is that it sounds a lot like criticism. And the fact about criticism is that it doesn’t matter how much trust and intimacy there is in a relationship, it’s still nearly impossible for someone to listen to criticism without becoming defensive.

We always desire to be heard and understood. Conversations become so much easier when we speak in a gentle, open way that allows others to feel safe and not defend themselves. However, this is a conscious practice, that requires conscious effort. Conflicts can turn into healthy discussions if we manage to do three things.

Practice #1: Use “I” statements

As people, we will always have different views and opinions about things, but when we state this view as the absolute truth, others can feel as if their views, needs, or opinions don’t matter. When this happens, a person is naturally drawn to defend rather than be open and listen, leading to disconnection and distance. Sometimes irreparable ones.

When we use “I” statements, they reflect our own feelings, perceptions, and experiences, rather than it being the absolute “fact” or pointing a finger at the other person. For example: “It’s impossible to talk to you!” can be expressed as “'I find it difficult to talk when there is so much anger”. Are you willing to practice this consciously?

Practice # 2. Focus on the issue and not the person

When we are in an emotionally loaded conversation, it can be easy to attack the person rather than keep the focus on the issue. In these situations, it can feel like a personal attack instead of moving in the direction of problem solving. Shifting the focus on the issue at hand and communicating with care and compassion, can completely shift the direction of the conversation.

Practice # 3. Don’t hit below the belt

Often when we are hurt, we try to hurt the other person by hitting where it hurts the most! These raw spots can escalate conflict if we don’t control what is said. Instead, we can prevent conflict from worsening by speaking with respect and compassion.

Relationships are precious and require conscious nurturing. How we talk to others in our relationships, determines how effectively the relationship problems are resolved. If we want to change other people’s behaviour towards us, we need to start by changing our own behaviour towards them first. As change always begins within, isn’t it?