How should people in conflict speak with each other?

shahzaibj1 asks: What should be the etiquette of speaking, especially in conflict?

Hi shahzibj1 –

What a great question!  Parents spend so much time teaching kids to say “please” and “thank you,” to wait turns, to not interrupt, all that sort of etiquette.  But what about when one’s in a conflict?  What is the best way to communicate then?  Are there rules?

Well, I guess the truest answer is No, that there are no real rules.  People can insult each other, bring up past events, exaggerate, lie…  And those are just in formal political debates!  In regular arguments, people can walk away, slam doors, throw plates, or punch each other in the nose, and there’s no rule against any of that (When it comes to shooting each other, though, there tend to be laws!!).

The trick, then, is to have your own rules.  Either for just yourself, or for you and those closest to you (for example, within a couple or a family).

Let me tell you how I do it.  Now of course if I’m home and a dog walks by outside, I have to yell obscenities at them – all dogs do that (Don’t ask why, you humans would never understand).  And if Handsome’s walking me on a leash, I have to tell most dogs I see that I’m tougher than they are and could beat them up in a second if I could just get to them.  (That one I can explain – being on a leash makes me vulnerable to any attack, so I try to scare the other dog off through intimidation before they try anything).

But if I meet a dog face-to-face in a neutral territory, I just want to get to know them, and ideally, play with them.  So I slowly approach, to make sure they are nice, and carefully sniff them all over while they do the same to me.  And then, if they’re willing, we chase each other, tumble on each other, and have a fantastic time.

But what if they’re not as friendly as I am?  Well, then we have a conflict.  Now I don’t like real fighting.  So I’ve developed a great way of avoiding it.  I have very long legs, and can jump at an angry dog and get on top of them very quickly, and roll them over onto their back.  Once I have them there, I put my mouth over their throat.  And they stop their aggression pretty instantly.  I then wait for them to calm down.  And when they seem relaxed, I step back, and see what they want.  If they want to walk away, that’s all right.  If they want to play, that’s great.  And if they want to try to fight me again… I just do the exact same thing and dominate them all over again.

Of course, this isn’t exactly the way humans can best work through conflicts.  But if you see, what I’m doing is something humans can emulate – I work to end the conflict, and move on to something more fun.

Now if two humans have a conflict, and they work to truly end it, that can usually be done pretty quickly.  But if instead, like that other dog, they want to keep trying to win, the problem is going to only get worse.

For example, let’s say you and a friend disagree on what you want to do tonight.  What he wants is something you just hate.  Well, you could discuss the possibilities (you agree to do what he wants, he agrees not to, or you do his thing for a while and something else for a while, or you decide to each do what you want).  Or you could…

1)    Insult each other.  You could tell him that he wants to do that thing because he’s stupid, or he could say you don’t want to because you’re cowardly or boring.  Or you could call each other nasty names!

2)    Bring up past events.  “This is just like last November when you were such a bore at my brother’s party!”

3)    Exaggerate.  “We always do what you want.  I never have any fun!”

4)    Lie.  “We did what you wanted last night.”

Each of those is guaranteed to keep from solving the conflict, and instead just add more things to be conflicted about!

OR you could have some rules, to help that from happening.  Here are a few good ones.

1)    Avoid “You” statements, and try to use “I” ones.  Instead of saying “You always get your way,” you could say “I really need to do something like this tonight.”  See how it keeps the other person from feeling defensive.  And definitely avoid insults – instead of “You’re a jerk,” use “I feel unheard.”

2)    Really try to hear the other person’s point of view, and let them know it.  When he says “I’ve had a tough week and really need to go out and get a little crazy,” you could say “Wow, it sounds like you’re feeling stressed out and need some fun to relax.”  He’ll feel so heard.

3)    If the other person starts to change the subject, respectfully bring it back.  “I hear you want to talk about who’s been washing the dishes more, but I want to clear up our plans for tonight first.  Then we can talk about the dishes, I promise.”

4)    Watch your tone of voice!  Just like us pooches, people respond as much to the tone of something said as to the words, or more.

5)    And biggest of all, LISTEN!  Respect that the other person’s wishes are every bit as valid as yours (which doesn’t mean they have to get their way).

If two people in a conflict can keep to these rules, I think you’ll find that conflicts get resolved as quickly as possible.  Of course there may be some conflicts that aren’t possible to resolve, and with those, these rules will just keep things from getting way way worse.

I hope that helps!


Good Luck,




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