How to stop a conflict from destroying your relationship

Interpersonal conflicts are inevitable. And you’re going to do one of two things when conflict comes. You’re going to resolve the conflict or dissolve the relationship.


I urge you to choose the first option … of resolving your conflicts … as quickly as possible. And choose the second option … of dissolving your relationships … as slowly as possible.


Of course that will take some skill. But it is a skill you can learn.


For starters, I recommend Dr. Z’s 8C Conflict Resolution Ground Rules. When you avoid these anger-provoking, hitting-below-the-belt tactics, you’re much more likely to get conflict resolution instead of relationship destruction.


► 1. Don’t COMPARE

Don’t compare the other person to somebody else. Don’t say such things as “You’re just like your mama … My first wife never treated me that way … or … Why can’t you be more like John?”


People want to be seen for who they are, not how they compare to someone else, especially when they’re going to look bad by comparison.


Avoid comparisons. They cause resentment and add fuel to the fire of your conflict.


►2. Don’t CONDEMN

Condemning comments usually start with the “you” word and lay on the guilt. They come in the form of “You always … you never … you should … or … you ought to be ashamed of yourself.”


And when the other person shares their feelings, don’t respond by saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Whether or not you understand or agree with the other person’s feelings, those feelings are real and legitimate for the other person. So don’t condemn them or their feelings if you want a decent chance of resolving your conflict.


► 3. Don’t COMMAND

People don’t like to be ordered around or told what to do. Whether it’s someone on a customer service helpline, a coworker, or a spouse, I would guess that you, like everybody else, hates to be told, “You must … or … you have to do such and such.”


When people hear those words, they may be thinking inside their heads, “I don’t have to do anything except pay taxes and die.” So if you demand or insist the other person do something, you’ll get more resistance and less cooperation.


► 4. Don’t CHALLENGE

Whereas commands encourage resistance, challenges encourage rebellion. It’s like telling your kids, “You just try that and see what happens.” The kid will probably try it.


That’s one of the reasons kids make so many stupid decisions. They feel challenged or peer pressured into doing dumb things. After all, they want to fit in and look cool, no matter how dangerous their choices may be.


It’s also one of the reasons so many adults get into trouble. They feel challenged to “keep up with Joneses”. So they do such things as buy things they don’t need and can’t afford to impress people they don’t even like. The inevitable result is financial strain and more conflict with someone somewhere.


Other adults feel challenged to “put on a good front” or “pretend everything’s okay” while unaddressed conflicts are raging in one or more of their relationships. It’s not very smart. They’re wasting precious time that could be used in productive discussion or counseling that gets their conflicts resolved.


So don’t challenge anyone else. It makes your conflicts more difficult to resolve.


And don’t take the bait when you feel challenged by someone else. You’ll usually end up paying a price you won’t like.



Don’t play psychologist or try to psychoanalyze someone by telling them what their “real” problem is or what’s wrong with them. That makes you look like a superior human being who is trying to help out some poor hapless inferior creature. And no one wants to feel like that. Indeed, they’ll often get defensive.


Some of my clients will push back and say, “Dr. Z., sometimes the other person just doesn’t get it. I have some insight that might be very helpful for them to know.”


I agree. That may be true some of the time. But rather than bestow your unrequested insight on someone else, which may come across as condescending, ASK. Ask something like this, “Would you be open to some feedback? Let them give you permission first.



Disagreement is one thing … and often necessary. But contradicting the other person usually comes in the form of interrupting. You jump into the middle of the other person’s comments to share your insights instead of listening to what they are saying. Again, it’s not helpful.


Try some positive, invitational remarks instead. When a constant naysayer in your office has just given you another litany of negativity, acknowledge her point, but keep her on track by inviting a more productive response. Say something like, “Okay, that’s the downside. But as a very perceptive individual, tell me what you see as the positive side.”


► 7. Don’t CONFUSE

Dirty fighters bring up unrelated issues in the midst of a discussion. They may feel as though they’re losing the argument, and so they purposely throw a monkey wrench into the discussion to throw you off guard. Keep yourself from doing it and stop the other person if they do it.


Ineffective conflict resolvers will bring up additional issues instead of sticking to one point at a time. And most people are only wired to handle one issue at a time … effectively. If need be, say something like, “I’d like to stay with our one issue before we get off track and onto something else.”


► 8. Don’t CONTINUE

Sometimes in the midst of a conflict you feel as though you’re going to lose your cool or professionalism. You’re about to say or do some things that you know you shouldn’t and you know you’ll regret.


At that moment, be mature enough to STOP it. Don’t CONTINUE. Say something like, “I need a break … I need some time to get my head together … or … I think a cooling off period might helpful.” If you keep on talking when things are going badly downhill, it is much more difficult to recover.


Of course, if you do screw up, you can always say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.” But let me remind you that even though you might apologize, the other person may never forget the harmful things that were said and may always doubt the sincerity of your apology. You’re much better off not saying or doing those things in the first place.