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How to Handle Conflict When Tensions Are High About COVID-19

How to Handle Conflict When Tensions Are High About COVID-19

Issues surrounding COVID-19, like mask requirements and vaccinations, have led to a rise in confrontations, from front-line workers with customers, to arguments with friends, family, and neighbors.  

A conflict is a disagreement or argument, commonly assumed to be something that needs resolving, but this is not always the case. Conflicts are not always negative, they can lead to moments of understanding and positive experiences. By being open and honest with others that we disagree, we can begin to work together to develop solutions or find compromises.  

Instead of treating conflict as something that needs “resolving,” treat it as something that needs “managing.” When “managing” conflicts what matters is not solving the problems but the effect/tone/emotion around which they are discussed.  

Here are some tips and advice on how to handle conflict in a positive and respectful way. 

Be Clear And Concise

When dealing with conflict, it is best to keep your message clear and simple. By having a specific and direct message you will leave little room for misunderstandings. According to Psychology Today, there are 5 steps to effectively communicate your message: 

  • Establish your goal for the discussion, by having a clear goal you will know what you need to state in order to achieve it. 
  • Consider changing your verbiage or tone of voice to help the person you are speaking with better understand you.
  • Organize your thoughts and make sure your message has a clear direction.  
  • Connect your message to the other speaker, this will help create empathy with them. 
  • If you have a specific goal in mind confirm that it has been reached. This will provide you with a clear end to your communication.   

Consider these 5 steps when you are facing a conflict, they will help you keep your message clear and to the point. 

Use “I” Statements When Setting Boundaries 

It is necessary in cases of conflict to have clear boundaries so that both parties feel comfortable in the situation. The Crisis Prevention Institute states that setting boundaries is a highly effective de-escalation tactic and “a positive way to redirect a person in distress.”  

When setting and communicating these boundaries, it is vital to use “I” statements. “I” statements focus on the speaker’s thoughts and feelings, whereas “you” statements tend to place blame. “You” statements can cause the person who is being spoken to become defensive. 

Ex: “Why aren’t you wearing your mask? You should be wearing a mask around people.” ​ 

Vs: “I feel uncomfortable being close to you when you are not wearing a mask. I am going to wear my mask and social distance some while we are together.”​  

By using “I” statements feelings of blame are reduced. “I” statements take responsibility for one’s own feelings while tactfully describing a problem. 

Take Deep Breaths

Sometimes when we are in an argument our emotional state becomes heightened. When this happens, the best thing you can do is take a moment to calm yourself down. Deep breathing is a proven way to reduce stress in times of conflict. It supports mindfulness by assisting the mind in staying present in a situation and overriding negative thoughts. 

According to Dr. Alan Watkins in his book Coherence: The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership, by focusing on the rhythm and smoothness of our breaths, our production of cortisol and adrenalin will cease. This will allow us to calm down during the argument. 

If you are in the middle of an argument, take some deep breaths and count to three in your head. By doing this you will be able to relax your mind and body and give yourself the time to refocus on the goal of your situation. 

Listen Actively

Frequently conflicts arise because people feel that they are not being heard, this is where active listening comes into play. Active listening is a technique of careful listening and observation of non-verbal cues, it provides a foundation of trust and understanding with conflicting parties.  

When using active listening look for the other person’s facial cues, cadence and tone of voice, non-verbal gestures, and appearance. You can confirm you are listening by using non-verbal gestures and being mindful of your own tone of voice. However, the most important element of active listening is to stay present. Focus on what the other person is saying and try to not focus on how you want to respond​. This leads to empathy and invites a connection between both parties. 

According to MindTools, active listening is “designed to encourage respect and understanding”. Being open and respectful of another’s point of view, feelings, and thoughts is the basis for forming bonds and ending conflicts.

Don’t Feel Obligated To Engage 

If you do not wish to engage with the person you are in conflict with, you don’t have to. If you feel uncomfortable or believe that you and the other party are not moving forward in your discussion, then step away from the situation. Respectfully acknowledge the individual and clearly state the intentions that you do not wish to continue the discussion.  

Ex: “I hear you, but I feel it is best that I walk away at this time.”  

This will provide both you and the other party the opportunity to come back to the situation in a calmer state of mind. 

Redirect The Argument 

If someone is asking questions that are meant to challenge, attack or elicit a strong response from you, redirect or do not respond to the argument. In cases where the other person wishes to hear or is requiring a response, redirection can be used. 

Liane Davey of the Harvard Business Review says that the most effective way to redirect an argument is to validate the other person. This can be done by repeating what you heard them say or by stating that you respect their point of view and would like to discuss it. After this is done redirect the argument toward your point of view. 

Ex: “Am I right when I say you feel frustration toward organizations requiring COVID vaccinations? This is an important issue. From my perspective, I feel the requirements are in place to prevent another lockdown situation.” 

Redirecting an argument is an effective way to help manage conflicts and allow both parties to see each other’s perspectives in a respectful way. 

Walk Away And Seek Support 

If you are in an argument with a person and you feel that you are in any sort of emotional or physical danger, walking away and seeking help is the best thing to do. Distance yourself from the other individual as soon as you can. Once this is done, seek assistance from a trusted individual, group, or organization. It is always good to have a support system or network in situations such as this. 

Remember, Jefferson Center’s Colorado Spirit team is here for you. Offering free and confidential support, we can help you with counseling tips and strategies to cope successfully and referrals to additional mental health resources. Call us if you need to talk at 720-731-4689. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, Colorado Crisis Services is available 24/7/365 by calling 1-844-493-8255 or texting TALK to 38255.

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