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Tension of some type is present in almost every relationship. We may not recognize it, but certain tension is present in all relationships that work properly. That tension allows the relationship to grow and for each person to bring the best out in the other. There are times when tension escalates to conflict. Most of us have experienced conflict in one form or another in relationships. There have probably been times when we have resolved it in a healthy manner and there have been times when it was dealt with very poorly. Probably the most common relationship we experience conflict in would be family relationships and most often still with our spouse.


There are many things that can contribute to conflict; external stresses and pressure, health problems, relationships outside of our family. Sometimes it can be stress related to our careers. Many things can create a situation for us that raises the level of stress in our lives and creates times of conflict or makes us more susceptible to conflict. Though many of those things can be contributors, the one underlying issue that seems to be present in all conflict is communication. It could be the lack of communication or the way in which we communicate that creates the conflict, but generally, conflict can almost always be tied to how we communicate. The resolution of conflict is also affected by how we communicate. There are many things that affect our communication in moments of conflict, but here are four specific things we can be aware of when conflict is present that may help us avoid, reduce or resolve situations.


The Words We Use

There are times when conflict is present solely because of a word or phrase that we used; something we should not have said. Sometimes we say those things unintentionally, but other times we escalate a situation using words we know will offend. What we say is important. Words can wound, infuriate, and escalate but they can also diffuse, solve and comfort. When we have chosen words that have created conflict, we should be quick to acknowledge that and correct the situation. When we are in conflict, we should be aware that what we say can make the situation better as well. I have heard it said that each of us carries a pail of water in one hand and a pail of gas in the other. When we approach a conversation, especially where conflict is involved, we have the choice to throw water or gas. Our choice of words determines whether we put out the fire or enlarge it.


The Words We Don’t Use

There are times when conflict arises because of words we don’t use. Sometimes it is information that we have not shared. Other times it is words of affection or affirmation that we have withheld. Sometimes saying certain words would eliminate or at least alleviate some of our conflict. Unfortunately, we often withhold some words in conflict because we think it makes us look weak or we do not want to be considered wrong. We also think that if we acknowledge any fault on our part the other party may think they are right or be unwilling to acknowledge their own. Refusing to use words when you know it is right for you to do so only adds to the conflict. I once heard it said that the twelve most important words we could learn to say in marriage relationships are, “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me. I love you.” Those first nine words are valuable in any relationship. Don’t withhold words that will resolve the conflict.


The Tone We Use

Sometimes the escalation of conflict is not just the words we use but rather the tone we use with those words. Sometimes we speak sharply. Other times we are speaking sarcastically. There are times when speaking loudly tends to affect the chances of conflict. The tone with which we speak affects how our words are received. As a communicator, I know that voice inflection can give several different meanings to a single sentence. Sometimes we are not aware of our voice tone and how what we are saying is being perceived by those to whom we are speaking. The dictionary defines tone as “a quality, feeling or attitude expressed by the words that someone uses in speaking or writing.” As you can see, feeling and attitude are a big part of our tone. We must be aware of the tone of our words, not just using the correct words. The correct words with the wrong tone can harm instead of help.


The Tone We Listen With

Though tone is most often attributed to the speaker or writer, the way we listen also affects what is being said. There are certain words and phrases that each of us find difficult to hear. The reason may be because of past experiences or past pain, but every time someone utters those words, we only hear them one way. There are other things that affect how we listen. External situations such as our job may have a bearing on the way we hear what is being said to us. Conflict with other people can affect our ability to listen appropriately. Predisposition to the person speaking or the topic being discussed are variables in the “tone” with which we listen. We often hear what we want to hear. Some of that is because we are all listening with a certain bias or “tone” if you will. We must make an attempt to understand what is meant by what is being said instead of letting our own prejudices cloud the situation and make the conflict worse.


Every one of us will experience conflict in our relationships. We must make sure that our contribution to the situation makes it better instead of worse. You may have some other ideas about things that contribute to conflict or other ways we struggle to communicate. Feel free to share those in the comment section. In the meantime, we can all work on our words and our tone; both are affecting conflict. Gas or water? It’s our choice.