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Dealing with conflict

During your time at university, it is likely that you will experience conflict and disagreement at some point. This could be during group projects, with flatmates or even in seminars. Here are some tips to help students deal with these instances of conflict in a productive and calm way while at university.

Take a break

The first tip is by far the easiest, and is often the one I find most useful. By taking a break during a discussion you can clear your head and prevent arguments getting too heated. It is also a great way to set your points straight before you continue your discussion.

Take a walk, go to a cafe, do some studying. By taking some time for you, set yourself to continue in a positive way and achieve a beneficial outcome to the conflict between you and the other person.

Listen twice as much as you talk

Something always worth remembering is that you have two ears and one mouth, meaning you should listen twice as much as you talk.

“Genuine conversation is exploration, articulation and strategizing. When you’re involved in a genuine conversation, you’re listening, and talking – but mostly listening.” – Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

I think the quote above highlights perfectly why we need to focus on listening rather than talking. To ensure that the conflict has the most positive resolution and outcome, we must ensure that we are listening to the other person. Something that has helped me achieve this is writing down the key points of the other person’s argument. This helps create a well-founded, valid discussion on the topic at hand but also shows that you are placing value on the other person’s opinions.

Find a compromise

This is especially important when working with other students on group projects.  Find a way to make both of you happy, but still get the job done. There will often be disagreements about which project title to do, who should do which bit of the project or how to undertake the project. Finding a compromise is all about negotiation, trying to find the best result for both parties, without falling out or damaging the relationship with that individual. This does not mean that we remove our emotions from the equation entirely, but we take into account the emotions of the other person and aim to achieve the best for both parties.

“You can’t take the emotion out of negotiation. After all, negotiations resolve around conflict, risk, and reward – which are inherently emotional. Instead of sidelining your feelings, understand them.” – Harvard Business Review

Put yourself in another’s shoes.

It is a cliché, but it is true. Try to think about a few things when you enter into a conflict:

  • Why is this person arguing with me?
  • Why has this conflict emerged?
  • Are there deeper issues rooted in this argument?

These questions should help you to consider the subjective meanings behind an argument, and you may find that if you ask the person these questions, you see the deeper meanings behind it. Perhaps they have had a bad day; perhaps they are tired or stressed; perhaps they are struggling emotionally.

In these cases, it is important to try and help the person through these issues, so you can both resolve the conflict together, leading onto my next point…

It’s you against the problem, not you against the person!

Remembering this has often helped to calm arguments down and keeps me on track during those discussions. The basic idea is that the people who have an issue should aim to attack the problem together, not each other.

Often when we have a difference of opinion a conflict can arise and increase in ferocity, when in fact the issue itself should be the target of an individual’s concentration, rather than focusing on confronting the person representing that idea. By arguing with a person over an idea, we distance ourselves from the real issue- the problem itself.

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