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How to diffuse conflict before it gets physical

Updated on May 10, 2008

My favorite reads on dealing with conflict

Video on how to stop fighting with your spouse

When it comes to conflict its better to shake hands than make bruises

We all have conflicts with people. It is simply far too idealistic to think that we can all get along all of the time.

I believe that some conflict is healthy. For example, if you are agreeable 100% of the time, I would say you have no spine nor your own thoughts and opinions.

However, there are times where conflict can escalate. It is all too easy when in a conflict for the wrong words to be used, for voices to escalate, and some cases, for fists to start swinging.

Conflict can turn harmful within a bat of an eyelash because when we are in conflict, our blood is pumping, and we are often looking to be right, and spending so much time engaging in the conflict that we don't realize the long term effects it can cause.

Here are the typical scenarios where conflict occurs:

  • At work
  • Between lovers
  • Amongst family
  • With strangers in public
  • At school
  • In traffic

How you handle conflict really says a lot about you. I recommend sitting down and thinking about the arguments that you have had in the past. How did they go? Do you regret any of them? Why? How could you have handled it better?

I am a little bit vivacious, so I tend to have conflict with people more so than the average female. However, I know when friendly conflict needs to be capped before it turns detrimental. I often sit down with myself and asses how I interact with people and come up with a diffusing conflict "game plan."

If you can look at your relationships and ask yourself " How can I stop this from turning into a conflict" is going to be the hardest and biggest step, but you need to do it. Saying " they started" helps no one. Even if it isn't fair, you are making a much bolder statement about yourself if you chose to be the ADULT in the situation and do the right thing.

Here are some tips that should be used in order to deal with conflict in a healthy manner:

- You can disagree with someone. If you are confident within yourself, you will know how to disagree, while maintaining tact. If you don't assert yourself off the bat, it will lead to a larger conflict down the road.

-In all of your relationships, you should strive to have a "give and take" balance. This means that compromises must be made, you need to make a personal effort to be a good listener, empathetic, and genuinely care about the people in your life.

-If you sense that someone is upset with you, or if you KNOW someone is upset with you, confront them in an adult manner. Be respectful. Simply ask them if you did something wrong, what you did, and how you can fix it. If you ignore these "vibes" you sense from people, their anger will build towards you, and will explode at some point. The same goes for you, if someone is making you upset. Confront them, talk it out like two adults.

- Take responsibility for your actions. People will get annoyed with you on a regular basis if you cannot own up to your mistakes. You want those who you care about to fess up to their mistakes. Otherwise, if someone always denies that they did something wrong it's basically saying " I did nothing wrong, you did everything wrong," which is hurtful, and, not true.

- Acknowledge the other person's feelings and don't get defensive. For example, " I know you are upset with me that I didn't call. I am very sorry, It was extremely rude of me, and I should have made it a bigger priority."

- Compromise. Try to find a solution to the problem that you are both satisfied with. This is the biggest part of that "give and take" idea. Sometimes, its worth it to suck it up to put the flames out in a conflict. You have to pick your battles.

....And then there are those instances where one or both of the people in a conflict are not acting rational, and the conflict has escalated.

- Is the other person yelling at you? Calling you names? Don't yell back. You are simply stooping to their level. If you tell them you'd like to talk about it when they are calm, and walk away, I bet they're going to feel foolish for acting so unreasonably.

- If you sense that things are getting out of control WALK AWAY. Especially if you feel that things are going to get physical. You can always revisit when both parties are calm and collected.

- If someone hits you, then yes, defend yourself. However, do not continue on longer than you have to. Don't try to win a physical fight, escape as quickly as you can, find a safe place, and seek help. You should never let someone hitting you just slide. Call the police, talk to the principle, tell your boss, tell your parents, whatever the situation calls for.

Final thoughts on diffusing conflict:

  • If you feel unsafe, get help, call the police. You need to put your personal safety first.
  • If you can't resolve a problem on your own, get someone to moderate.
  • If someone is emotionally, verbally, physically abusive towards you, they have no place in your life, cut them out immediately.
  • During a conflict, treat others how you would like to be treated.

  • Unless the person causing you some type of harm, you should always try to work out a solution, it is never wise to burn your bridges.

Note: If you need someone to moderate a problem, or if you need counseling or advice, please leave a comment with your e-mail address.


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      With the fighting thing at school, in my opinion if some one calls you names, hit them and even if you get beaten up you will no longer get called names, people will think its not worth the hassle. i had 3 fights when i was at school all in the first year and never got bothered again =)

    • healwell51 profile image


      10 years ago from Ahmedabad, Gujarat, INDIA

      This is really good effort and few very interesting psychological tips are put here! But when you are involved in the conflict, you are infused. It means reality is infused and that is the main problem / issue, because of its situation: It is one kind of indication that now diffuse process would take much time and so the person would have to make an effort, which s/he would not prefer st s time! And then the stress element starts to implant its possibilities in the person!

      Mostly this way the conflict becomes stress and we have to deal with the stress. The conflict would not be there but its ghost with stress would be there so things would be little more serious...

      Well few conflict dealing things are useful and any one one can apply those. It will give little relaxation but if strees smanaging thing could be applied then it would really create positive things in the person. SO the possible change could be taken place!

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 

      10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      We can all use a bit of conflict to give our opinions. But dont let it be all end all dominating.

      Listen to one another, sit down and air your opinions calmly and rationally...Yeah I know that is easier said than done.. If an argument not respond simply because ....there is no argument if the other doesn't carry it on. You cant argue with yourself.

      Emotions always let us carry things on more on the spur of the moment.

    • Josh Tam profile image

      Josh Tam 

      10 years ago from Kch

      Just my 2 cents

      But sometimes it is just not possible anymore to avoid conflicts. In some situations, we really need to fight back. An example would be living in a country ruled by powerful selfish ministers who rob the country of resources and threaten the people. Sure we can try to befriend those ministers and avoid conflict, but the love of the nation and the realization of an absence of a bright future of the country will make the people fight for right no matter the consequences...

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Yes, John, very true, I loved your advice. We would tell our foster kids (or anyone really as it works well for adults) to visualize that red light. When you picture it -- it makes you pause. We would nickname it "pause for the cause." If more people would take that little pause...before speaking or lashing out, we would all be better off. I tell my kids you can be right and be wrong. Right does not give permission to hurt others.

      Predicting outcomes is huge. necessary. a must teach skill for our kids.

      good hub, lady luck...marisue

    • John Chancellor profile image

      John Chancellor 

      10 years ago from Tennessee

      Excellect advice.  Just a couple of additional thoughts. 

      I think we often make problems worse by hanging on to our "right to be right".  There is an old saying among the self-help community, "You be right, I'll be rich."  When we are damn and determined to prove that we are right, we will go to any length to defend our position.  We need to make a logical evaluation of what is the cost of being right.  Often the cost far outweighs the benefit.

      There is also a "red light" method that really works well if you will remember to use.  When you feel a discussion starting to esclate, think of the "red light" and stop.  The emotional part of the brain has hijacked the logical.  Stopping and collecting yourself gives the rational part of the brain time to catch up.  Then go on to the "yellow light" - think of the possible actions you could take and then evaluate the consequences.  Then, and only then, should you proceed to the "green light", which is taking action.  If you have calmed down, evaluated the consequences of your next step, you should be able to diffuse the esclation before serious damage is done to the relationship.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Hicks 

      10 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      I'm with Lissie - avoid, avoid, avoid. I stay away from conflicts like the plague. I don't mind being called chicken. Great exploration of the topic.

    • Josh Tam profile image

      Josh Tam 

      10 years ago from Kch

      Avoiding conflicts may mean that you are being a chicken.

      Facing conflict may mean being brave and getting hurt.

      So, sometimes, it is better to be a healthy chicken than an injured/dead brave hero, so Lissie=queen indeed!

    • Lissie profile image

      Elisabeth Sowerbutts 

      10 years ago from New Zealand

      Nice sensible advice- me I am the queen of denial and avoidance: I have more than once left the country rather than deal with the relationship that was on the rocks: lucky for me my current partner hates conflict even more than me :-)

    • mroconnell profile image


      10 years ago from France

      Great extended look at the topic. Thanks!

    • Josh Tam profile image

      Josh Tam 

      10 years ago from Kch

      Good tips! I also believe that when in an argument, if you are speaking politely instead of unleashing harsh language, the argument would be solved more easily and more peacefully.


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