“We need to talk.”

What’s your first reaction?

“Yikes!” “Uh oh,” “Here comes a fight”, “RUN!”

Here are four ways to avoid escalating a conflict, leave the other person feeling heard and understood, and communicate that you’re on the same team.

Learn to turn “we need to talk” into an opportunity to connect.

1. Maintain Composure: Remember that anger is usually an emotion that follows a different emotion. For instance, your partner may be yelling at you, but there’s a likely chance that he/she feels hurt or scared deep down, and is trying to address that in the best way he/she can. Instead of yelling back or getting defensive, try keeping your tone of voice calm and the volume low. It’s very difficult to continue yelling at someone who refuses to yell back. Keeping control of yourself helps lower the intensity of the interaction, which will then allow you to begin addressing the issue as you listen.

2. Listen: The goal is to help the other person feel heard and understood in the midst of conflict, which continues to lower the intensity and move you toward being able to find solutions. Listening may seem straightforward, but we can always improve. Listening starts with body language. Let the other person know that you care by stopping what you’re doing, turning toward them, and making eye contact. Simple, but effective in communicating that you’re willing to hear them. Throw in a few genuine head nods and “mmhmm”s and it will go a long way.

3. Acknowledge: How you respond can either escalate the conflict or calm things down further. Try taking your own thoughts out of the equation and practice simply focusing on what you’re hearing. Remember your calm and caring tone, and give them a summary or even word-for-word repetition of what they said. This summary communicates that you’re listening and gives them a chance to clarify so you get on the same page. Go a step further and acknowledge the emotions they feel. An example summary might sound something like this: “I forgot our anniversary, and you’re feeling hurt and overlooked.”

4. Offer Assurances: Conflict is a normal part of relationships and can actually serve to strengthen your connection when dealt with in a healthy way. The next time someone comes to you with an issue, try to keep in mind the importance of the person and relationship instead of attempting to win the argument, and then tell them what they mean to you. Try saying something like “I love you and want to figure this out together,” “I can tell this is important to you so I want to work on it,” or “Thank you for caring enough about our relationship to bring this up.”

Conflict is inevitable, but we can learn how to respond well if we begin by practicing these four important tools for connection!