4 Bad Responses to Conflict & How You Can Keep Yourself Out of It

By Georgia


Last Updated: September 11, 2021

Many people fear conflict. Others thrive on it.

But chances are, conflict has caused a lot of anxiety and strife in our lives and the lives of those around us. Because conflict can often lead to such negative and destructive outcomes, we can often blame conflict itself for ruining our relationships, stability or lives.

But it's not conflict's fault. It's us. 

The quality of our lives depends not on whether or not we have conflicts, but on how we respond to them. - Thomas Crum

We are all so different. And those inherent differences will always lead to conflict. Compassion, empathy and understanding can help keep those conflicts from escalating to prejudice or violence.

We all want the same things in life; to feel safe, stable, connected and cared for. But what that looks like and how we get there is where our paths diverge. And since we can't read each other's minds, we must communicate our needs and expectations without judging or criticizing someone who might be on the other side.

And here is where things can get tricky and go very, very wrong.

Most of us have responded poorly to conflict at some point in our lives, and we don't know why things blew up or broke down so quickly.

But how you respond to conflict is only half the story.

You can't control how others respond, you can only try your best to steer the conversation back into constructive territory. So here are 4 less than stellar responses to conflict, and how to make sure yours is healthy. 


4 Responses to Conflict & How You Can Keep Yourself Out of It

Conflict Response #1 - Offense

Some people thrive on conflict and use it to fuel their aggression and air their grievances. They will take any opportunity to get involved in conflict and may create conflict where there is none.

Conflict is a way to break up the monotony of life and get their blood pumping and that dopamine and adrenaline flowing. These people thrive on drama but things can quickly escalate into harassment, threats or violence.

Healthier Response: While conflict is a necessary part of life, it is not a way of life and cannot be used to dominate, intimidate or manipulate others. Remain calm, listen and respond with care and compassion. Stay out of conflict whenever possible and resolve it wherever necessary.

Conflict Response #2 - Defense

Conflict very often evokes a defensive response in people. In this case, conflict feels like an attack, and a natural reaction to attack is defense.

But defensiveness can easily slip into dismissiveness, justification and counter attacks. Even if the basis of the conflict is inaccurate and the issues brought forth are not your burden, you still bear the responsibility to respond in a constructive and healthy way. 

Healthier Response: Don't dismiss the other's concerns without addressing their merit or your role in the matter, or lack thereof.

Try not to justify your actions or words, inappropriate or not. Instead, acknowledge them and the way they could have been interpreted and negatively impacted the other person. Do not attack the other person even if they are attacking you. It is hard to resist but fire needs water, not fuel.

Conflict Response #3 - Submit

Some people are naturally submissive and assume any conflict brought to them is somehow their fault.

These people often make themselves responsible for others attitudes, misunderstandings and emotions. Even if they know they're not actually at fault they will apologize anyway just to appease the other person and smooth things over.

This doesn't actually resolve anything, and teaches the other person they can dominate others to get what they want and don't have to take responsibility for their role in anything. 

Healthier Response: It is important to figure out what the actual conflict is about and delegate who is responsible for what.

You can acknowledge your role while also holding others accountable for theirs. Make sure to note that everyone's feelings belong to them, and just because someone feels offended or put upon doesn't mean an offense has occurred. Sometimes nothing was done wrong and people still get hurt.

Conflict Response #4 - Avoid

A lot of people try to avoid conflict altogether.

They ignore the other side's gripes, bow out of conversations, or end relationships just to avoid confrontation. This obviously doesn't help either. Ignoring someone can add just as much fuel as firing back at them. And the person who has a problem with you will always be the one controlling the narrative.

Healthier Response: Conflict cannot be avoided, and doesn't automatically mean fighting or confrontation.

There will be people and situations in life you can't walk away from, so it is best to learn how to handle conflict now so you don't create more problems by letting them grow.

Peace is not absence of conflict, it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means. - Ronald Reagan

Read this next! 4 Tips to Help You Change the Way You See Conflicts


You Don't Need to Be Afraid of Conflict

Conflict is a part of life.

It forces us to communicate openly. It exposes our deepest desires, fears and biases. Conflict is not a negative we need to stamp out, it is a natural part of life that needs to be recognized for the good it can do.

There's no getting away from it, so it's best to learn to live in harmony with it.

You can choose to use conflict as a tool of growth instead of shunning it like a dirty secret.

Keep your responses to conflict healthy and constructive, and try to recognize when you are straying. It can feel like a struggle and the stakes can be very high, but at the end you'll know where you stand and have a better idea of how to navigate your world.

Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels


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