No matter how hard you try, conflict will arise sooner or later in any long-term relationship you have. Whether the relationship is personal or professional, it is inevitable that two people will butt heads at some point. How you handle the conflict is a testament to your level of awareness of your role in the conflict.
The easiest way to escalate a conflict is to attack the other person. Understand that you don’t have to verbally attack someone for that person to feel attacked. You can make the most subtle statement, but if it is passive-aggressive it will be interpreted as an attack.
Many therapists emphasize the importance of “I” statements during a conflict. They assert that stating how you feel can never be misconstrued as an attack. There is some truth to this, but I think it is a little remedial to suggest that starting your sentences with “I” is going to solve everything. I think people are smarter than this and capable of going one step further.
The best way to handle a conflict, I believe, is to lay your goal out on the table, and remind the person you are talking to that you have the same goal. “We both want this to work, so let’s try to figure out a way to make that happen.” The reason this is critical is that many conflicts end up turning into power struggles between two people.
Power struggles never work. You need to do what you can to take power out of the equation, and make sure that each of you feels safe to come to a resolution together. It helps to say things like “these might be my issues, but…” or “I know I can sometimes be difficult so…” These proclamations are important because they throw the issue of power and control out the window. Acknowledging that you are not perfect and that you simply want to make things work can make the other person feel more comfortable and more amenable to a resolution.
In the end, we catch more flies with honey. Remember to see that person as an ally when problems arise and you will find yourself managing conflict much better as a result.