🎶 Talk about it, talk about it, talk about it, talk about it. 🎶
Gotta love those lyrics from the Lipps Inc. disco classic. Once you’re back from Funkytown, let’s talk about your communication skills, cookie! After all, sometimes you’ve just got to “talk about it.”
As far as I’m concerned, open communication is one of the most important tools I have access to—it’s how I deepen my relationships AND patch them up when things get tough. It’s also essential for leading my team and navigating challenges in my business.
That’s why I treat my communication skills like a precious plant. I have to tend to them on a daily basis so they can flourish in every corner of my life.
Because, the truth is, effective communication isn’t always easy. That’s especially true when we need to resolve conflict. As this pandemic reshapes our world, I’m betting you may be facing a bit more of that lately. We’re all under a lot of pressure and stress, often in close quarters. Disagreements and misunderstandings are bound to bubble up. So there’s no better time than the present to level up our communication skills!
Today I’m sharing 9 ways you can communicate better and resolve conflict with empathy, compassion and love. Whether you’re learning how to be an effective communicator or just want to dust off your skills, these tips are for you! They come from my personal toolkit and have helped me make my conversations smoother, no matter how difficult they are.
Don’t feel any pressure to remember or apply them all now, though! Think of this as a menu of tasty communication-boosting tips. If you peruse the list and pick one to apply, I promise you’ll have a much easier time navigating your next tough talk!
9 Compassionate Ways to Resolve Conflict
1. Think before you speak.
Whenever possible, take some time to think about what you want to say before you start a tough conversation. (Sometimes conflict comes out of nowhere and I’ve got more tips below to help you respond well in those cases.) But when it’s possible, a little forethought will empower you to speak with compassion and clarity.
For example, I know that I communicate my best when I do it with intention. Usually that means organizing my thoughts and goals for a conversation beforehand—whether it’s for a team meeting, dinner with my folks or a more serious sit-down with a pal. It’s ok if your process looks a little different—just focus on setting yourself up to feel safe and confident in the upcoming convo!
2. Pick the right time & place.
Good timing can make the difference between a peaceful resolution and a fiery blowout. Consider factors like both of your stress and energy levels. Bombarding someone the moment they get home from a tough day at work won’t get you anywhere! When in doubt, ask if it’s a good time to talk—getting buy-in shows the other person that you’re not there to attack them.
The way you communicate is also important. For example, texting can be a great tool for quick check-ins, but it’s not the best way to resolve conflict because there’s no tone of voice or body language to contextualize what you’re saying. Difficult convos are usually best had face-to-face (or on FaceTime or Zoom while we’re social distancing!).
3. Say what you mean, but don’t be an honesty bulldozer.
Hiding or sugarcoating your needs just builds resentment. So speak your truth, toots! Keep it clear and simple.
But one caution: being honest doesn’t mean saying whatever you want, however you want, whenever you want! I’m a say-it-like-I-feel-it type gal and that bluntness has gotten me in some hot water over the years. I’ve learned that while I don’t need to censor what’s in my heart, I do need to be mindful of how I share it. And if I’m debating whether or not to speak up at all, I ask myself: Will the truth help this relationship in some way or does it just cause more hurt?
4. Put yourself in their shoes.
Let empathy be your guide when it comes to resolving conflict. The more we strive to understand and appreciate each other, the kinder and more successful our conversations will be. As you prepare for your conversation, take some time to look at things from their point of view. It will help you be more balanced and empathetic in the way you speak.
Continue that practice as the conversation actually unfolds, too. When we’re having a tough convo and someone does or says something that we perceive as an attack, our instinct is often to go on the defensive. Pausing to hear, understand and embrace their point of view will help you respond intentionally instead of reacting defensively.
5. Speak for yourself.
No one likes being told how they feel. That’s why it’s so helpful to use observational statements in challenging convos. So instead of, “You’ve been so moody and distant, what is going on with you?” try, “I’ve been feeling a disconnect between us, have you noticed that too?”
See how differently that lands? Not only are you removing your own assumptions—you’re also giving the other person room to share their perspective before establishing anything as fact.
Don’t get me wrong, it can be really tempting to blurt out your inner talk track in the heat of the moment, but you’ll have better outcomes if you slow down and let the other person speak for themselves. Which brings us to…
Communication isn’t all about talking, especially when you’re trying to resolve conflict. My therapist always says that people just want to be understood and that it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give. Interrupting, ignoring or discounting the other person’s side of the story is a surefire way to make them check out of the conversation.
That’s why a big part of learning how to be an effective communicator is practicing mindful listening. Make it a point to show your loved one that you’re fully present (AKA not just thinking about what you’re going to say next). I’ve found it helpful to repeat back what I think the other person means (and to ask them to do the same) to clear up any misunderstandings before the conversation is over. You might be surprised what you hear when you really, truly listen.
7. Tackle one thing at a time.
I’m sure you’ve been in a tough conversation that snowballed—one minute you’re asking your partner for more help around the house and the next thing you know you’re rehashing the details of an argument you had months ago… Been there!
It’s totally normal for other thoughts to surface while you’re talking things out. But it’s difficult enough to resolve conflict without multiplying it, so try to stay on topic.
I find this is easier when I’m practicing forgiveness instead of harboring frustration. In that sense, I can start to resolve conflict before it begins by doing my own emotional work—pausing regularly to drop the baggage from past hurts. That way, when there is a conflict, we can spend less time rehashing the past and more time finding a resolution!
Could you use some support with that? If so, try my free Forgiveness Visualization meditation. It’ll help you shed the weight of any resentment, so you can approach your next discussion with open hands and an open heart.