3 Powerful Skills to Manage Conflict in Relationships

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Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More

Conflict often arises because we don’t always correctly read the...

Conflict often arises because we don’t always correctly read the behavior or words of another person. To do so takes some skill in communication. Some people have grown up in homes where those communication skills were modeled, discussed and refined over time. As a result, they now intuitively have a good idea of how to effectively navigate conflict and work toward resolve. Others though were less fortunate and now have to figure out how to work through conflict by trial and error.

The good news is that conflict resolution skills can be learned. But, you need to know which skills are most effective and then deliberately practice them on the relationships that are most important to you. Here are three powerful conflict resolution skills to get you started.


1. Empathy

Empathy is a feelings-oriented response which conveys sensitivity and understanding. Strong negative feelings can become a barrier to communication; this response can diminish those feelings. Empathy is accurately tuning in to what the other person is feeling at the time. It implies listening beyond the words and reflecting the feelings.

A helpful formula: You feel (emotion) because of (circumstance, situation).

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Empathy examples:

  • You’re feeling discouraged because this behavior you see in me keeps repeating.
  • You’re offended and angry at my attempts to “fix” you.
  • You’re excited about your new opportunities for promotion at work.
  • You seem pleased that others recognize your gifts.

2. Probing

Probing seeks to ask questions in order to gain more information about what is going on. Open questions focus on the others’ general situation, thoughts, reactions, and feelings. They tend to promote communication. Closed questions focus on specific facts or aspects of the others situation, generally evoking “yes” or “no” answers.

Probing examples:

  • Do you think I am being stubborn about this decision? (closed)
  • You tell me I am stubborn. How does my tendency to be stubborn affect you? (open)
  • Do you want to talk or not? (closed)
  • I sense that you may not want to talk. Can you tell me what you’re feeling right now? (open)

Open questions are recommended for exploring a broad topic. Closed questions can be interspersed to get to specific facts or can be used to cut off long, irrelevant explanations. In either case, listening to the answer and responding with sensitivity is vital to the questioning process. Caution is needed with asking “why” questions. Example: “Why are you always so negative?” This will often put the other person on the defense and may also express disapproval or criticism.

3. Self–disclosure

Self-disclosure shows your attempts to give others insight into who you are. It is sharing something about yourself that relates directly to the conversation: your personal beliefs, attitudes, values, or an event from your past. Self–disclosure can reduce anxiety by reassuring the other person that he or she is not alone in their feelings or fears.

Self-disclosure examples:

  • When I went through a period of depression, I also had a hard time doing even the simplest things.
  • Like you, I never felt as if anyone accepted me for the way I was.
  • When I was a child, others frequently made fun of my weight; I know what it is like to stand out in a crowd.

Self-disclosure is useful in connecting with anyone who struggles with similar problems or life concerns. Caution: overuse of this response is not helpful because it focuses attention on yourself instead of the other person. It can be viewed as an attention-getting device. Use sparingly for the best effect.

Keep Reading By Author Gary Gilles, LCPC
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