Let’s start by examining spontaneous disputes that arise out of nowhere – often in social situations (like a Christmas party). In that scenario, the way things progress will depend at least in part on your ability to be resilient and adapt in the moment. But there’s also a checklist of questions you can ask yourself that will help you to evaluate the situation.
1. Is this issue important to me?
Take a step back and assess things objectively. Is this really an important issue? Maybe someone has brought up politics, or something that’s in the news. At that point, you need to decide whether it’s something that needs to be pursued right now.
2. What does this person mean to me?
Are you talking to your brother-in-law, where you can possibly keep things cordial? Or are you talking to your mother, where it’s something that needs to be resolved immediately? Depending on your relationship, it might pay dividends to work through the issue in the moment. Otherwise, you may be better served by changing the topic and steering the conversation away from potential areas of conflict.
3. Does this need to be resolved right now?
Many factors will impact this decision. It might be late at night when tempers are frayed. There might be children around. If it’s a festive event, there might be alcohol involved. Once you’ve assessed the setting at hand, you can make a choice. Do you try to diffuse the situation? Do you decide to walk away? Or, do you step into the space of conflict? If you choose to enter that space, try and take the emotion away and be practical as well as factual.
4. Is there someone else that can help right now?
Perhaps you can mediate conflict by saying something as simple as, “Hey, why don’t we get a third party to come in?”. To give a light-hearted example, maybe your mum can help to decide who cuts the turkey this year. Sometimes a fresh outlook can defuse potential conflicts before they ever take place.
5. Can I see this issue from their perspective?
If you can use empathy to place yourself in the other person’s position, and vice-versa, you’re more likely to take the heat out of things. By viewing the situation from different angles, you can bring down your emotions and you might just find that the conflict is about something entirely different to what you initially thought.