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"It takes skill and sometimes a lot of courage to deal with a disagreement, and it's almost always worth the effort -- especially when you find you're facing the same conflict over and over again," says Claire Coltsmann, a Toronto-based life coach.
Coltsmann helps her clients achieve their best lives by encouraging them to explore and understand their values and by helping them to articulate their visions.
Here are her tips on how to approach a disagreement, find a solution and get past it.
1. Identify your conflict style
Knowing how you typically deal with disagreements will help you identify how you might want to approach conflict differently in the future.
"There are five different ways of dealing with conflict: competing, collaborating, compromising, avoiding and accommodating," says Coltsmann. "The truth is, there are no right or wrong ways. It depends on the situation and an individual's skills in using one of the conflict modes."
2. Think about your past disagreements
When you find yourself in a disagreement, do you usually try to talk the problem out with the other party in hopes of finding a solution? Or do you tend to let the other person have his or her way if it will mean avoiding further conflict?
"If you find yourself relying on one mode continuously, it's important to try to learn about some different approaches," explains Coltsmann. "Changing behaviour is not the easiest, but you can learn new skills through a process of awareness and practice."
Listen to what your gut is telling you -- your first instinct is usually right. Allow your instinct to be the voice that guides your next steps.
3. Step away from the situation for awhile
In order to respond to a disagreement with a level head, you may need to remove yourself from the conflict so you can consider your options in peace. It's important to approach the situation as if it is a problem that needs to be solved, rather than something to get angry about.
"The most important step in any disagreement or conflict situation is to create a shared understanding of what's going on, bringing the views, ideas and opinions of everyone out into the open," says Coltsmann. "It's time to gather facts, verify assumptions and seek clarification -- and, most importantly, it's time to suspend judgment."
You'll know you've created a shared understanding when you feel heard and understood, and when you've aired all of your underlying issues.4. Adjust your body language
To avoid slipping into attack mode, be conscious of your body language. Before you've even opened your mouth, it's likely that your body language has already sent a strong message.
"Watch for body language like rolling of eyes and folded arms -- they reveal that you're not truly listening to the other person," explains Coltsmann. "Ask questions, then state your opinion."
Standing your ground doesn't have to mean being physically dominant, which can come off as defensive. "Try not to get in someone's personal space," says Coltsmann. "It's very threatening."
Adjust your physical approach to be more inviting and less defensive, and your attitude will follow suit.
5. Know when to walk away
If you can't seem to come to an agreement with the other party, it may be best to agree to disagree. That way each party shares the mutual understanding that his or her viewpoint has been acknowledged and accepted, and you can both continue to maintain your relationship without any underlying tension.
"In cases where the conflict arises from deeply held convictions, values and beliefs, it is OK to agree to disagree," says Coltsmann. "Understand that we're all different and that each of us has unique perspectives. It's sometimes important to respect others' opinions even if you don't agree with them."
6. Find a clearing technique to help you move on from the situation
An important part of handling disagreements effectively is being able to forgive and move on, which is why you have to ensure that you are truly at peace with the outcome of the disagreement.
"Often people hang on to the stress created by conflict for far too long -- recreating the situation, thinking about what they should have said, reliving the emotions," says Coltsmann. "Find a clearing technique that works for you, such as deep breathing, visualization or telling a friend. Use it, let go and move on."
If you hold onto the stress of a disagreement for too long, you'll only make the situation worse for yourself. Then you've lost the battle, no matter what the outcome was.
The only way to lose in a disagreement is to not bring up your feelings and to let resentment, frustration or stress get the best of you. Do yourself the service of voicing your true feelings, even though it may be scary. The best possible way to handle a disagreement starts with honestly admitting your feelings to yourself. After all, a disagreement cannot come to an end if you don't fully allow your feelings about it to begin.