Seven Steps To Improve Communication Skills To Help You Manage Conflict

If you’re in business for yourself you know more than anything else, business is not only about revenue, taxes, or marketing. For the most part, business is about people!

To be successful in business, you must know how to talk to, listen to, work with, get agreement and cooperation from… people.

And as simple as that may sound, it’s anything like it.

Because no matter how hard you try to understand and be understood, at some point, something is likely to go wrong. Often, it’s just a miscommunication or a simple misunderstanding.

But at other times, it’s because there is a distinct difference of opinion that’s not easy to bridge.


When you find yourself in such a conflict, it may seem impossible to reach the other party. At times it even seems that everything you say is misunderstood or gets twisted around and turned into an attack.

And no matter what you say or do, it doesn’t seem to make a difference. In the worst-case scenario, this type of conflict results in gridlock, where neither side is willing to give an inch to find the resolution.

What should you do; what can you do?

First, take a step back, take time out.

Try to zoom out and take another look at what’s going on, from a different vantage point. I admit that can be hard to do when emotions are flying high, but it can be done.

Next, remember that every one of us has a need to be heard and be understood. All of us, without exception, want to feel appreciated and respected.

Using these basic needs as a framework, we can call on a set of ground rules when we communicate during conflict.

When you understand and follow these rules, you’ll be able to find to a resolution that is workable for and satisfies both parties, at least most of the time.

Take Responsibility

No matter what the nature of the conflict, take responsibility for your feelings and response. Never blame the other person for ‘making’ you think or feel something.

Banish from your vocabulary words like: “You’re making me angry,” “You’re giving me a headache,” or “You’re making me lose my temper.”

No one is making you do anything you don’t want to do yourself. Take 100% responsibility for the way you feel, for what you say, and for what you do!

Instead, whenever you express your opinion, use phrases like ‘It seems to me that,” “I believe that,” or “I feel like.” And even if it turns out that you’re in the wrong, at least you’ve owned up to the fact and didn’t’ tried to pin it on the other party.  

Avoid Absolutes

As tempting as it may seem, avoid using words like ‘always,’ ‘never,’ ‘every time,” etc.

For example, don’t say, ‘You never meet the deadlines we set.’ Using these types of words make the condition sound terminal, unchangeable, and seemingly impossible to resolve.

Using absolutes is counterproductive, as you’re talking about behavior you expect the other party to change.

Instead, focus on the action!

For example, say, ‘Please tell me in advance if a deadline is unrealistic so that we can plan better or adjust our plans if necessary.’

The Y-Word

Try to use the word ‘you’ as little as possible. It may be unavoidable grammatically, so you’ll need to use it sometimes; but even so, use it sparingly.

The problem is that in conflicts, the word ‘you” has a confrontational connotation that automatically puts the other person on the defensive. And this is not what you want to do.

Instead of using “you,” whenever possible, substitute with “we.” When you do this, you make the other person feels less defensive. It also levels the playing field, getting you closer to resolving the conflict. 

Listen and Ask

Focus on trying to understand the other party’s situation and feelings rather than asserting your own.

Never, ever assume that you know how they feel! If anything, try to put yourself in their shoes to see how you would feel.

Allow them time to speak, and listen to them.

Listen carefully when they’re explaining the situation and what’s going on for them. Ask clarifying questions so you’ll fully understand the other person’s point of view.

If both parties understand the other’s opinion without judgment, a workable resolution is far easier to achieve.  

Mind Your Manners

If communicating via email or text, take pains to be extra polite.

With any kind of written communication, including social media, you can’t see the other person’s facial expressions or hear their tone of voice.

It’s all too easy for things to be taken the wrong way, potentially making the conflict even worse.

That’s why before pressing send, always re-read and edit again, if need be!

Keep It Clean

If things are especially tense, take time out. Try to take emotions out of the equation.

As much as possible, anger needs to be defused, or a solution will remain out of reach. Never stoop to using personal attacks or resort to abusive language.

But if you find it’s impossible to talk to the other party without feeling angry, why not put your words into writing?

Since each of you can read at your own leisure, it will give you time to think before responding. This way, you can hear each other out.

Another option for resolving the conflict may be involving a mediator who is an objective third party.

Know Your Role

During a conflict, always remember you’re a professional and keep in mind your professional roles.

Here are some examples:

  • You might be the clinic owner, while he is the new employee.
  • You might be the provider, while the other person is an upset, angry patient.
  • You might be the person at the front desk, trying to talk to an irate patient.
  • You may be the leaseholder, angry and upset with your landlord over reneging on a promise.

When you find yourself in the midst of a conflict, be sure to use tone and language that is appropriate for your role and your relationship to the other party.

In conclusion…

In business, just as in life, there will always be disagreements and challenging situations.

Don’t shy away from them. Because when conflicts are left unresolved, they tend to snowball into even bigger issues.

Instead, learn to look at disagreement and conflicts as an opportunity for growth.

Welcome the chance to gain a deeper understanding of the issues involved and appreciate the opportunity to get to know the other person better.


What’s your experience with handling conflict? What strategies, tactics, or tools have worked for you? Write your comment below this article… we’d love to know what worked for you.


By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.

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