Resolving Conflict in Relationships - LifeWorks

Resolving Conflict in Relationships

By Keith Swan, LifeWorks Consultant

Relationship Conflict
Resolving Conflict in Relationships

Resolving conflict in Relationships through better communication - this includes any relationship: marriage, family, friends, neighbours, or work.

Our relationships can fall into conflict from time to time. This can happen to any of our relationships: marriage, family, friends, neighbours, or work.

The conflict often revolves around 'needs not being met'. The thoughts and feelings created by our needs not being met can lead to conflict, because we deal with the situation (our method of communication), in a confrontational way, rather than say what we actually need.

So in order to help promote conflict resolution in our relationships, we need to look at the method of communication of our needs. Is it confrontational?

For example: Do we demand? Do we blame or compare? Do we deny responsibility? Do we feel we 'have a right', and therefore punish if our needs are not met?

Our communication method will show this, as it includes: our communication system, our communication model (s), and our beliefs.

System: We learn to communicate through our system 'model'. Our 'system model' is often a combination of our cultural system of communication and our family system. ie, we learn from what is around us.

Model: In learning our 'system model', we are often exposed to the belief, that our needs will be effectively met by others, by somehow 'forcing them, or coercing them' to 'comply'. This could be called the confrontational model. It is a model, where we have learnt to use many (overt and covert) manipulative ways to get others to 'comply as a means to getting our needs met.

So, instead of using language that helps clarify our needs, we somehow manage to miscommunicate these needs by using language that aims to coerce, or induce guilt, shame, or fear, in others, in order to get our needs met'.

Simply, the clarity of our 'real needs' has been lost.

Yet by using the confrontational method, we have learned to believe that our needs will be effectively met by this model, when in fact,

'this approach is ineffective as it often results in conflict, it also perpetuates (existing) conflict, whilst diverting the attention away from the clarification of the real needs'.

So we may need to find a different model!

But our existing model of communication (confrontational) may challenge any change through our beliefs!


It is often difficult to challenge our model and method of communication, as they not only sit deeply within our value and belief systems, but also the fact that we know of no alternative. If we have no alternative model for reference, we have no choice.
This is because when methods of communication were being 'learnt', it was 'the only game in town'. It was what was around us, so it was what we learnt, and what we still believe to be effective in the here and now ... plus (even if challenged), we know no other way.
(Also worthy of note: It is also difficult to challenge the confrontational model as it also provides a 'secondary pay off'. This model gives us the possibility to at least punish others for the fact that our needs aren't met, as a 'secondary reward'!).

There is another way:

Non-violent Communication (NVC) - pioneered by Marshall Rosenberg

The aim of Non-violent (Compassionate) communication is to bring the attention back towards the needs, feelings and perceptions to enable a way forward acceptable for all parties, through clear understanding, honesty and empathy.

Its aims are to clarify our real needs, via clear communication.

NVC will question:

Do we say what we need? How do we say what we need? Are our methods clear? Are they clearly stating what we need? If we do say what we need, are we being totally honest? Are we (ourselves) actually aware of what we need? Are we aware of the understanding of others?

Therefore, the NVC model states that we need to:

State the facts ... (observations without judgement) ... eg, I am too late, the shop is closed.
State the feeling(s) ... (name the emotion) ... I feel very frustrated, disappointed, and now anxious.
State the need ... (that is causing the feeling) ... I need to buy printer paper for tomorrow's deadline.
State (request) action ... to meet the need (ie, what you want) ... I now need to go to the late night Supermarket.

... as opposed to (old 'confrontational' model): 'It's your fault that I am late and the stationary shop is closed. You didn't get ready when I told you to. You know I desperately need this paper for tomorrow, you know my deadlines, yet you sit watching the TV. I'm so angry at you. I now have to go all the way to the supermarket. What if they are closed or don't have any? I don't need this stress now on top of everything else, and you're to blame!'

For NVC to be affective, we need to be aware of what we need, be able to honestly express it, whilst being aware of what is going on for others.

So compassionate (Non-Violent) communication can be blocked if these are not present. Namely:

A lack of self empathy - a lack of awareness of what is going on inside ourselves. We are unaware of our thoughts, feelings, judgements, and our needs (met or unmet).
A lack of awareness of what is going on inside others - we are unable to connect with the head and the heart, not just in agreement, but in understanding.
A lack of self honesty - inability to express our observations, feelings, needs, and requests.

Furthermore, it is difficult to apply compassionate (Non-Violent) communication if we indulge in:

  • Moralistic judgments - we imply the 'wrong doing' of others that don't share our values.
  • Demands - we don't request, but threaten consequences when others don't comply.
  • Denial of responsibility - eg: 'I had no choice', or 'It's your fault (for my behaviour)'
  • Denial of universal needs.
  • Making comparisons - we compare people: their lives (or our perception of their lives), achievements, goals, etc.
  • 'Deserving' - 'I deserve it' (or even), 'you don't'! - this implies a right to reward for (my) actions, (or even punishment for the actions of others).
  • Generalisation - we don't stick to the facts.
  • 'Story telling' - we get wrapped up in our story instead of concentrating on our emotions.
  • In summary:

    One more time:

    State the facts ... (without judgement)
    State the feeling(s) ... (name the emotion)
    State the need ... (that is causing the feeling)
    State (request) action ... to meet the need (ie, what you want)

    In conclusion, I hope this article has gone some way to help unravel the 'mysteries' of what often causes conflict in our relationships, and has highlighted the possibility for change.

    Here at Lifeworks we have many trained personnel to help you in resolving such issues, so don't struggle with communication, give us a call.

    Thanks for reading,


    Keith Swan

    A shorter version of this article is available here:

    Relationship Conflict


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