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Understanding and solving conflicts

Understanding and solving conflicts

Think back to the last time you had an argument. Were you trying to defend or convince someone of your point of view? Did you want to prove that you were right?

Sorry to break it to you, but during this argument you probably used violent communication. This is very common, people have been communicating violently for ages. We come from an authoritarian society, where, in order to gain and maintain a high position, one must judge, warn, teach lessons, and impose their point of view.

Violent communication isn’t only raising your voice or using insults. It can also be giving unsolicited advice, complaining, or being excessively sarcastic. If it’s uncomfortable for us to communicate with people when they’re doing this, it’s logical to assume that others don’t like it either.

In order to feel safe, we need to be treated with warmth and tenderness, to be heard, and to feel understood and considered. Any kind of communication that deviates from these parameters, can be considered violent, even if the intentions are good.

We’ve all been taught that conflict is bad, you only need to take a look in the dictionary to discover that every definition has a negative connotation and this is a clear reflection of society. Having a conflict causes discomfort, and in this situation we have two kinds of reactions: run away or attack.

We all have our own internal map of experiences and learnings collected throughout our lives, making each of us unique. Considering that there are infinite ways to see and interpret the world, it’s very common to disagree or clash with other’s opinions.

Putting importance on fixing conflicts is fundamental. If we resolve them in the best way, we strengthen our relationships, if we don’t, we may end up destroying them.

Communication starts from within

Let’s get back to that last time you had a conflict. Think about how it started. You probably got irritated by someone’s words or actions and so you reacted and the communication broke down. We tend to believe that people deliberately provoke or make us feel a certain way.

By having these thoughts, we give them power over our wellness, it’s those around us who need to change in order for us to feel good again. This way of thinking is dangerous, it leaves us unprotected and leaves our happiness to external factors that we have no control over.

Consider the fact that in the midst of any situation, each person reacts in a different way. We must stop blaming others, and focus on ourselves.

The good news is, that each individual is the one (and only one) responsible for the way in which they interpret reality. If the words or actions of another person affect you, it’s because something inside you hurts. By analyzing ourselves “layer by layer”, we can identify what is actually hurting us, become conscious of it, and finally put ourselves into action.

The theory of Nonviolent Communication developed by Marshall Rosenberg, proposes a process for getting through different layers, communicating in the most positive possible way and facing the many conflicts in our lives.

Here we focus on the first step in this theory, the process of introspection:


What is it that is actually bothering me? Sometimes it’s difficult to separate an actual event from how we interpret it; during each situation we find ourselves in, our brain is trained to make value judgements. During childhood, we’re taught to distinguish between good and bad, and with these learnings, we build our own way of seeing the world. We’re so immersed in self reality, that we think our interpretation is what actually happened. Careful, don’t believe everything you think.

Knowing how to objectively identify which specific event or fact made us react in a certain way, is fundamental in order to peel back our own layers and discover what’s actually triggering our emotions.

Tip: Imagine there’s a camera in the room where a conflict is taking place, the recording has no audio. This recording shows the facts, everything else, is just a subjective judgement.


If we pay attention to our value judgments, we’ll probably discover the feelings that lay beneath them. We sometimes react so quickly, that we forget to feel. Connecting with our emotional selves, and letting our feelings flow, helps us to understand ourselves better.

At this stage, we just need to identify these emotions, allow ourselves to feel them fully, name them, and be conscious of the fact that all of this can only happen internally.

Once we have identified which emotions are being brought up by a particular situation, we’ll be more prepared to face them and to continue peeling back our own layers.


Negative emotions indicate a specific need that’s not being fulfilled. In our society, it seems that needing is synonymous with failure, weakness, or dependence, and the common behaviour is to keep true needs hidden inside, rather than expressing them, so that we don’t feel vulnerable.

Human needs are universally similar and of an emotional and physiological character. Wanting to satisfy them is not selfish behaviour, it’s our responsibility as adults. If we wait for someone else to fulfill them, we’re once again leaving our wellbeing to external factors.

The truth is that only we have the capacity to satisfy our own needs, if, instead we demand, manipulate or convince others to satisfy them for us; this is violence. The outcome can only be sadness and frustration.


At this point we have already detected a need that wasn’t being fulfilled. But what’s next? We need to establish how to fulfill that need with certain appropriate actions, now we’re starting on the path of self-care, preventing external situations from affecting us.

The actions I choose will depend on the needs I have, there are unlimited ways to satisfy a need. For example, if I consider my social needs are not being met, maybe I can block time in my day to hang out with friends. Or maybe I need more recognition, then I can write my weekly achievements in my journal, so I can recognize them by myself. The key is to take action and be constant.

What should I do when in a conflict?

A conflict arises when the actions I take to fulfill my needs, clash with other people’s actions. We’ve recognized that only we can satisfy our own needs, however, that doesn’t mean that we can walk all over everyone else.

Everything we do, is to meet our own needs.

Thus, the first step to solving a conflict, is to understand that we all act according to that purpose. Following the internal layers process won’t help you this time, only dialogue will.

Ok, how do I start?

If I’m the one with the problem, that is, I’m bothered by someone else’s actions, then I need to start by expressing how I feel, and try to understand why they took those actions to fulfill a need. When both parties’ needs are expressed and considered, we can create a shared action plan, for each of us to follow without interfering with the other.

On the other hand, if the other person has backed-off and decided to break the communication, then I need to start the conversation first; expressing my own understanding of the situation, feelings, and needs of the other. With this, he or she will feel invited to open up, and find a solution.

Only when we realize that each of us sees the world through a different lens, will we fully understand that conflicts are not only inevitable, but a great opportunity for human exchange and understanding.

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1 comment

  1. eduardo castañeda says:

    Excelente! muy buena
    justo cuando pasé por un conflicto, ¡Gracias!

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