‘Tis the season to be jolly?’

Tis the season to be jolly?

 Resolving conflict in healthier ways

We are constantly communicating with others and even ourselves. It’s something we all do every day, in every encounter we have with those around us. Given that this is something we all do all the time, you’d think we might be rather good at it. And if we weren’t, you’d think it would be reasonable that a healthy portion of the school curriculum would be taken up teaching this crucial skill.  Strangely not.

We all struggle with communicating effectively at times. Naturally, when we communicate with others, conflicts can arise. The holiday season is a time when busy families may find themselves suddenly thrown together and unresolved arguments, disappointments and irritability can rise to the surface when there is little to distract us. Holidays can be a time of stress and conflict for many people.

To help have a more peaceful and restful holiday, I thought it may be useful to share a few basic building blocks that we can all work on to build healthy communication strategies and skills to minimise stress of conflicts. Being the new year, I thought let’s start at the beginning!

Conflicts arise when our desires and wishes may not match those of others we are dealing with. Commonly we may try to avoid the conflict or address it indirectly with dropping hints about what we want, or our emotions boil over and we may get verbally or even physically aggressive.  My favourite way of resolving conflict is a strategy from Jennie Byrne which can be summed up using the acronym STABEN. This can be used as a simple way to remember the individual steps which can be broken down as follows:

Source – who or what is the source of the conflict?

For example, is the conflict with your partner regarding something they do or don’t do which upsets you?

Time and place – when is the best time to discuss what is upsetting you?

Generally, try not to address a conflict when emotions are running high or you and the other person are hungry, tired, distracted or irritable. The best time would be when all parties are rested and relaxed. Thinking about place, try to find somewhere you can have privacy and no one will feel picked on or humiliated. A good time for a discussion with a partner might be on a weekend morning when you both have time, the kids are playing and you are both rested and relaxed.

Amicable approach – start with the positive.

To get someone to listen to you, it can be best to start with something positive about them. This brings the person’s positive, responsive attention to you and prevents them from becoming immediately defensive. Try being specific about something they have said or done that is positive.  Avoid general statements like “you’re always kind”, rather try something specific such as “I really enjoyed the dinner you made us last night, thank you.”

Behaviour – specifically identify the behaviour that was a problem.

Again, avoid using broad, sweeping statements, such as “You always make a mess in the kitchen”. Rather try something specific such as “Yesterday when you cooked dinner, you left the used pots and dishes out”. Keep the conflict focused on the specific issue at hand. Resist the urge to lump all your complaints from the past into one. This can leave the other person feeling overwhelmed and defeated and they may shut down before you’ve had a chance to address the issue.

Emotion – own the emotion you feel in relation to the behaviour being addressed.

For example, “I felt frustrated when I saw the dirty dishes left in the kitchen”. Using the “I” is important as it ensures your statement does not come across as blaming and is then less likely to lead to defensiveness. Take a moment before starting the conversation to identify how you did feel about the behaviour.


Need – what do you need?

Clearly identify what it is you need which will help this conflict to be resolved. Again, take the time before the conversation to identify what it is you need from the other person/s. In this example, it may be something like “I need you to rinse and stack the dishwasher when you’ve finished cooking dinner” or “I need us to come up with a better arrangement around cleaning after cooking”.


Even if the other person doesn’t agree with your specific request regarding what you need, this process begins a discussion and negotiation for finding a workable solution to the difficulty that you are both comfortable with.  These principles can be applied in home, work and other contexts. Like any new skill, it takes practice and a couple of false starts before things start to come naturally. Following these simple steps can help us get what we need while respecting others and building and maintaining healthy relationships with those around us.

Blog by Gillian McGregor (Psychologist Seven Hills Family Doctor))