In even the very best personal and professional relationships, conflict is inevitable. Our ability (or inability) to handle conflict can make a key difference in the quality of our relationships, our careers, and our lives. Here are the WORST ways to handle conflict.

Conflict as Combat
Conflict can best be understood as a situation in which there are opposing demands or ideas and a choice needs to be made between them. Conflict isn’t necessarily negative. It is neutral. It is how we handle conflict that makes all the difference. Sadly, many people assume conflict is negative and tend to view conflict as combat or something akin to a battle that needs to be won. So, they put on their armor of defensiveness, grab their weapons, and head into battle.

Conflict, however, doesn't have to be combat. In fact, it can be a very healthy conduit for growth in any relationship. Viewing conflict itself as “neutral” and focusing on healthy conflict management skills can get us out of the conflict as combat mindset.

This is, perhaps, the most obvious of the “worst.” Many people take the “if I ignore it, maybe it will go away” approach to conflict. And, of course, this rarely works. Small issues fester and grow into bigger issues. Minor problems multiply into a swirling, messy mix that can be more difficult or even impossible to address later. Resentment mounts. Bitterness grows. And, eventually, we tend to explode (often over something unrelated), say things we regret, and/or have a disproportionate response to an issue.

While it is, often wise to “choose your battles carefully” or even decide to “let it go’; if we consistently avoid conflict, problems are bound to arise.

Being Defensive
When we view conflict as combat, being defensive is bound to happen. When we assume we are going to be attacked, we will often perceive an “attack” even though none was intended. When we are defensive we shut down our ability to genuinely listen because we are busy planning our response, or defending our position. When we are defensive we are shut down to even the slightest possibility that we might have something to learn or something to improve. We also shut down compromise and cooperation (both healthy conflict management strategies).

What if instead of being defensive we opted to be curious? Curious about what the core issue might be? Curious about the other person’s point of view? Curious about what our role was and can be moving forward? Curious as to what a great outcome could be for all parties?

Wounding WordsWords are the most common weapon most of us use during conflict. We say things to intentionally hurt or upset others. We might opt to belittle, demean, and disrespect others by slinging insults, using foul or colorful language, or resorting to personal attacks. We might name call, threaten, or berate people.

Words matter. The words we choose to use and the words we choose to lose can make all the difference during conflict. When you are tempted to use wounding words, stop, take a breath, and reconsider.

While these are not the only mistakes people make with regard to conflict, they are some of the most common. Ask yourself, which mistake(s) am I prone to committing? And, the next time conflict occurs, commit to disagreeing without being disagreeable.