Preparing to address conflict

Rupinder Mahil is a psychotherapist and accredited mediator, working at the University of Derby. She specialises in helping people work with and resolve conflict.

When addressing conflict, asking yourself some key questions and framing the conversation in the right way can help you create the conditions for a helpful conversation.

Having a conversation with someone about a disagreement or potential conflict can feel daunting and uncomfortable, but with some preparation, you can make it more likely that it will be a helpful and positive conversation.

Take some time to clarify your own thoughts and feelings first. You may want to work on gaining clarity on your own or through discussion with someone who is not involved in the conflict.

Clarify how you feel about the conflict

1. Can you establish calm for yourself?

Monitor your own physical and emotional response to what is happening. Using some relaxation techniques e.g. the 7-11 Breathing exercise to help you reduce any stress or distress can help to clear your thoughts and begin to identify what you want to say and how you want to say it.

2. Identify what’s causing you difficulty

Specify the impact this is having on you and others. How it makes you feel is important to helping you identify what your needs are, and will help others understand why it’s important to you.

3. Explain why it is so important to you

Can you describe it so the other person will understand what you mean?

4. What is your role in this conflict?

Are there things you recognise you may need to change in future? Being able to identify this at an early point in the conversation may make the other person less likely to feel blamed for the whole thing.

Consider your options to address the situation.

This may involve inviting a conversation directly with the other person/s or accessing support to begin addressing the issues you’ve identified. Your university support services may be able to help.

How to invite a conversation

1. Try to start a direct conversation

It is always preferable, when the situation allows, to address the issues directly with the person or people you’re having difficulties with. A direct conversation opens up the opportunity to resolve issues quickly and makes it more likely you can maintain a relationship with them afterwards.

You may even find that addressing conflict, successfully between you, strengthens your relationship. Strong relationships aren’t defined by a lack of conflict, but by an ability to address and resolve conflict when it arises.

2. Give them time to consider

Try to make the invitation to talk as non-threatening as possible. Try not to ambush them if they aren’t expecting a conversation: allow the other person time to react and get their thoughts in order.

Depending on the situation, you may want to speak to them face to face, to arrange a time to speak later or you could agree on a time by private message.

If you can, pick a venue that will be comfortable for both of you, where you can talk about all of the issues. Make sure you both have enough time to have the conversation.

3. Frame the conversation constructively

Try to make it clear in your invitation that you want to resolve the problem. How you frame the conversation will affect how they approach it.

If they believe you just want to tell them off or attack them, they are more likely to arrive feeling defensive. If they feel you are open and genuinely want to resolve things between you, they are more likely to arrive with an open mind and a willingness to find solutions.

If you don’t believe that you can have the conversation directly or if you feel unsafe, speak to someone in your university, for support. They may be able to help you find other ways to resolve the conflict.

Page last reviewed: October 2022