Teaching Conflict Resolution Skills to Youth
Conflict is part of life. We can’t hide from conflict or wish it away or pretend it’s not happening. It occurs in families, friendships, school, work, neighborhoods, and our society in general. It is unavoidable, but it does not have to be negative. Conflict can be used to create positive change and strengthen relationship bonds if it’s managed properly.
Good conflict resolution skills are some of the most beneficial skills you can teach a teenager. These skills can help your teen establish healthy relationships, prevent youth violence, set them up for good employment, and generally be more successful in life. Here are some tips to teach your teen:
Recognize and manage your emotions. Emotional awareness is the key to understanding yourself and others. Many people try to ignore or medicate strong emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear. But if you don’t know how you feel or why you feel that way, you won’t be able to understand your own needs or communicate effectively to smooth over disagreements. Additionally, when you’re in control of your emotions, you can communicate your needs without threatening, frightening, or punishing others. Anger management is particularly important to being able to resolve conflicts in a healthy way. If your teen needs assistance in managing their anger, please read our previous blog on Anger Management for Teens.
Fight fair. The way we approach a conflict has a significant impact on whether it will be resolved in a positive or negative way. Teach teens to fight fair with these tips:
- Remain calm. If you can’t stay calm, take a break for a few minutes.
- Be respectful. Treat the other person the way you want to be treated.
- Be specific about what is bothering you or what you need.
- Do not attack the other person. No name calling, yelling, hitting, accusing, or threatening.
- Use “I” statements rather than “you” statements, for example, “I feel hurt when…” instead of “you are so mean when you…”
- Don’t generalize. Avoid words like “never” or “always.”
- Avoid exaggerating. Stick with the facts and your honest feelings.
- Stay in the present. Don’t bring up other problems you have had in the past.
- Avoid clamming up. Positive results can only be attained with two-way communication.
Use active listening. Really listen to the other person and try to see the problem from their perspective. Resist the temptation to interrupt with your own point of view until the other person has said everything he or she wants to say and feels that you understand his or her message. Ask clarifying questions as you listen, use small encouragements to show you’re listening such as nodding your head, and, when the other person is done, restate in your own words what you believe the other person has said. Active listening does not come naturally to any of us, but it is very helpful in resolving conflict.
Work on nonverbal communication skills. Nonverbal communication includes eye contact, facial expression, tone of voice, posture, and gestures. Paying close attention to the other person’s nonverbal signals may help you figure out what the other person is really saying. In addition, by using positive nonverbal signals such as a calm tone of voice or a concerned facial expression, you can potentially defuse a heated exchange.
Pick your battles. Conflicts can be draining, so it’s important to consider whether the issue is really worthy of your time and energy. If you can let the small things slide, you will have more peaceful relationships with others and the people in your life will pay more attention when you are upset about the big things.
Prioritize the relationship over winning. Many people enter a conflict with a goal to “win.” Unfortunately, this only creates more conflict and can ruin your relationship. The first step to resolving conflict in a healthy way is to try to understand the other person’s point of view so that you can work together to develop a mutually acceptable solution. Everyone involved should be able to share their point of view and outline their needs, generate a list of possible solutions, and choose an option that meets as many needs as possible and is acceptable to all. It’s really about shifting our mindset from defining the conflict as “me against you” to “you and I against the problem.”
Too often we assume that for one person to win, the other person has to lose. In reality, it is often possible to think creatively and come up with a solution that everyone involved feels good about, where each person walks away feeling that their needs have been met. That is the true goal of conflict resolution, and anyone who can master that skill will be successful throughout their life.