Managing Conflict During the Holidays (in a non-threatening manner)

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Conflict in friendships and relationships is a fact of life. It’s normal and healthy. Two individual people cannot always agree on everything. But when conflict involves strong emotions, it can lead to hurt feelings, resentment, and discomfort.

The result?  More anger, more hurt feelings.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to manage conflict. Badly managed, conflict hurts people and harms relationships. Learning healthy ways to manage conflict can make your relationship stronger by encouraging all parties to grow and mature.

It’s important to remember that managing conflict well means the relationship is more important to you than winning. Respecting each other and each other’s point of view is crucial.

Try these methods to manage conflict in a non-threatening manner.

Stay Relaxed and Focused

It’s important in tense situations to stay centered and in control of your emotions. Use techniques like deep breathing to stay calm. Try to understand where the other person is coming from and try to see the other person’s point of view.

Manage Your Emotions

Think about what, exactly, is stressing you about this conflict. If you can, look at the problem from a different perspective. Re-frame the issue. Why are you feeling so stressed about postponing your vacation so your partner can go to that conference? Is the reason you are uneasy about him/her asking a co-worker to dinner because you’re jealous or feel like your relationship is threatened by  the coworker? You need to connect to your own feelings—anger, sadness, fear—before you can talk to your partner about them.

It helps to remain in the present. If you feel yourself thinking of old hurts, resenting the current situation because of what happened last week or a year ago, think about what you can do here and now.

Express your feelings in words. Ensure that you are speaking about you and not pointing out your partner’s/ friends/family member’s faults. Although you may feel like leaving the room and slamming the door on your way out, that’s not going to help. In fact, it may leave a bad impression of you and cause the other person to feel frustrated with you.

Be Aware of the Other Person’s Feelings

Much, if not most, information in a conflict is expressed, not in words, but nonverbally. Does your friend look you in the eye or shift her eyes away? Are you looking at the other person so he/she knows you are listening. Facial expressions and tone of voice speak louder than words. Is your friend/partner clenching his/her jaw? Pay attention to the nonverbal signals. Posture and gestures reveal a lot.  What is your partner or friend actually saying when he/she crosses his/her arms and hunches his/her shoulders? Could they possibly be feeling overwhelmed or as though they need to defend themselves?

Use Nonverbal Communication to De-escalate

Once you are aware of what’s really going on in the conflict, use nonverbal signals of your own to reach out and build trust. Your calm tone of voice, the concern in your own facial expression, or a touch to reassure can help de-escalate an argument.


Listening well is a skill. Learning how to be a better listener will go far in managing conflict. What does the other person say about why he/she is upset? If you don’t get it, repeat his/her words and ask if you got it right. Wait until he/she is done talking before putting in your two cents’ worth. Make sure you understand hi/her point of view before you respond.

Respect her feelings. Use “I” language. “I can understand that must have been hard.” Ask for more information. “Has that happened before?”

Validate the other person’s concerns. “I appreciate that you’re telling me about this.” “It’s good that we’re trying to solve this problem.”

Use Humor

A shared sense of humor is one of the things that brings people together. You bonded with your mate/friend in part, because you can laugh at the same things. Using a shared joke or gentle humor can help relieve tension during a conflict. It helps to keep things in perspective: Things are not as bad as they seem.

Non-Threatening Conflict Management

To manage conflict in a non-threatening manner, you need to remain relaxed and focused. Work to manage your emotions and be aware of how others are feeling. Also try to be aware of and improve your non-verbal communication. Then, listen. It also helps to use play and humor to reduce tension and change perspective.

Finally, know when to let go. The old saw, “Pick your battles,” conveys a lot of wisdom. Some things aren’t worth arguing about.