Dealing with Conflict

Disagreements happen -between partners, roommates, labmates, teammates- and they can easily be blown out of proportion. In Megan Phelps-Roper’s TED Talk, she urges all of us to talk and to listen to the people we disagree with. Here are her tips for how to have effective conversations:

1. Don’t assume bad intent.

Assuming ill motives almost instantly eliminated the possibility of understanding why someone does and believes as they do. We forget they are human-being with a lifetime of experience that shaped their mind, we get stuck on that first wave of anger, and the conversation has a very hard time ever moving beyond it. But when you assume good or neutral intent, you open yourself up to having an open, non-judgmental dialogue. 

2. Ask questions.

Asking questions helps figure out the disconnect between differing points of view. That’s important because we can’t present effective arguments if we don’t understand where the other side is actually coming from and it gives them an opportunity to point out flaws in our positions.

But asking questions serves another purpose; it signals to someone they’re being heard. Questions give the other person room to speak, but they also give others permission to ask you questions and truly hear your responses. It can change the dynamic of a conversation.

3. Stay calm.

This is way easier said than done! It does take practice and patience, but it’s powerful. If you are finding a conversation becoming heated, resist the urge to lash out and find a way to press pause. The disagreement isn't over but by giving everyone time to breathe or walk away, you have the opportunity to come back to it when everyone is ready and less frustrated. 

4. Make the argument.

One side effect of having strong beliefs is we can assume that the value of our position is, obvious and self-evident; that we shouldn’t have to defend our positions because they’re so clearly right; that if someone doesn’t get it, it’s their problem — that it’s not your job to educate them. But if it were that simple, we would all see things the same way, so make your case.

Two women sitting and looking at a cellphone together