How to be a better friend: Resolving conflict by arguing constructively

Tara Parker-Pope

CNA/THE NEW YORK TIMES – Nobody likes conflict, but relationship researchers said every conflict presents an opportunity to improve a relationship.

The key is to learn to fight constructively in a way that leaves you feeling better about your friends.

Much of what we know about conflict resolution in relationships comes from studies of married couples, but the basic conflict resolution strategies are the same.

The marriage researcher John Gottman found the most important part of any personal disagreement are those first few minutes when the fight is just getting started. Here’s some general advice from the research about how to resolve conflict with a friend or lover.

IDENTIFY THE COMPLAINT, NOT THE CRITICISM

Don’t start the conversation by criticising your friend.

Focus on what made you unhappy, and be specific about your complaint.

“I was upset that we didn’t get to spend time together at the party,” is a much better conversation starter than, “You’re never around when I need you.”

AVOID ‘YOU’ PHRASES

Phrases like “You always” and “You never” are almost always followed by criticism and blame.

Sentences that start with “I” or “We” help you identify problems and solutions, rather than putting blame on someone else.

BE AWARE OF BODY LANGUAGE

No eye-rolling, which is a sign of contempt.

Look at your friend when you speak. No folded arms or crossed legs, to show you are open to their feelings and input.

Sit or stand at the same level as your partner – one person should not be looking down or looking up during an argument.

Dr Gottman reminds us that fighting with people who are important to you is not a bad thing.

After all his years of studying conflict, Dr Gottman has said he’s a strong believer in the power of argument to help people improve their relationships.

In fact, airing our differences gives our relationship “real staying power”, he said.

You just need to make sure you get the beginning right so the discussion can be constructive instead of damaging.