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Navigating Conflict in Friendships

Your story, my story and somewhere in the middle is the truth.


 It was a day I had dreamed of since I was a little girl. My wedding was a few months away and I found the perfect dress. I posted an Instagram photo of me saying “yes to the dress” with my bridesmaids and family, including a caption of how much the women huddled around meant to me. A few hours later, I look down at my phone and see a text informing me that I forgot to invite one of my bridesmaids to go shopping. Needless to say, I felt terrible.


Conflict in friendships is a tricky thing to navigate. Learning how to disagree with friends is scary. You want to feel accepted and a part of a group and yet you also want to be true to yourself. Sometimes being true to yourself makes you at odds with others.  In some circumstances, you make decisions that cause unintentional harm and unless confronted, you’d have no idea that you hurt someone’s feelings.


Arguments and disagreements are healthy for relationships. They offer opportunities to build trust and a gain a deeper understanding of who another person is. Engaging in healthy conflict requires vulnerability, the ability to engage in awkward and uncomfortable conversations and working toward understanding another’s point of view. Working through conflict doesn’t need to be complicated, and the more you do it, the less intimidating it becomes. Practicing self-awareness, and a honing in on a few communication skills takes away the fear of confrontation damaging a relationship, and allows you to see the opportunities it brings for growth and deeper connection.


There’s a great analogy that describes four main responses to conflict:

  1. Bulldozer – Person who demands to be heard, needs to have their way, is unwilling to listen to others. Goal in conflict: win the fight.
  2. Doormat – Person who does not believe their needs or opinions matter. They do not speak up when they are hurt and sometimes blame themselves for other’s mistakes. People pleasing is their superpower. Goal in conflict: avoid conflict at all cost
  3. Doormat with spikes – Person who reacts calmly in a moment but internally plans on how to get back at someone who’s hurt them. This can look like trash-talking behind a person’s back or intentionally finding ways to make the other person look bad. Goal in conflict: get revenge
  4. Pillar – A person who respectfully communicates when and how they’ve been hurt. They give the other person a chance to share their side of the story, is open to hearing feedback and is solution-oriented. Goal: further a healthy relationship, through active listening, honesty forgiveness.

If we go back and look at the different types of responses to conflict, there are a few different ways my friend could have responded to my Instagram post.

  1. Bulldozer – She could have left a comment under the photo “um.. where was my invite?” or sent me a text “It looks like you don’t value our friendship enough to include me, so I’ll save you the trouble and not be in your wedding.”
  2. Doormat – She wouldn’t have said anything at all, and assumed I intentionally left her out because I wasn’t as close to her as my other friends.
  3. Doormat with spikes – She could have told me it was no big deal, and then started a text thread with the other bridesmaids, telling them how horrible a person I am and how they should all no longer be in the wedding in protest.
  4. Pillar – She’d shoot me a text saying “hey I saw the photo of wedding dress shopping and I feel really left out. Can I call you later so we can talk about it?”

I’m one of those people who hate it when someone is mad at me. So when I realized I had left my friend out of such an important event I immediately went into fix it mode. Quickly I sent her a long text saying how sorry I was, how I assumed she felt hurt and that my mistake did not reflect how I felt about our friendship. Looking back, if I could go back and respond differently, I would pick up the phone and call her. She deserved a conversation and a personal apology. In my text to her, I assumed how she must have felt and what she thought about me and my intentions. In reality, I wish I would have given her the opportunity tell me how it felt when she saw the photo. It would have given her the space to ask questions or express any hurt feelings, and I wouldn’t have spent the next week worried she secretly resented me.

Just like any skill, practice makes perfect. Well, in the case of relationships nothing is perfect, but these tools will strengthen your relationships when things get messy.

  1. Identify your style of conflict from the four major approaches. Think about the last fight you had with a friend. How did you respond? Do you respond in different ways to different friends?
  2. Cool off. When someone does something to hurt you, take a breath. Don’t react out of anger but think about how you want to respond.
  3. Ask questions. What information do you not have? Are you placing intensions on another person’s actions? Are you assigning tone to a text or meaning to a sub tweet?
  4. Make a plan to talk with the friend in person or over the phone. If a conflict starts to evolve in a text STOP. You each deserve the chance to fully express your opinions and feelings.
  5. Mediator. Ask a neutral friend or trusted adult to sit in on the conversation if you feel like the conflict is too difficult to work out between the two of you.
  6. Listen and try to understand the other person’s perspective. Even if you don’t agree, repeat back what you heard them say to make sure you are understanding them correctly.
  7. Forgive and move forward. Forgiveness doesn’t mean you don’t feel hurt or angry. It means you choose to not let those feelings define the person or relationship. You don’t hold the incident over the other person’s head, discuss it with other people or bring it up in later arguments.
  8. Be the friend you want someone to be for you. Everyone makes mistakes, and good friends are hard to find. So before you cancel someone who is important to you, fight for the people who mean the most to you. Believe the best when others are at their worst, you’d want someone to do the same for you.

 

Sources
Damour, Lisa. “How to Help Tweens and Teens Manage Social Conflict (Published 2019).” The New York Times, 16 January 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/16/well/family/how-to-help-tweens-and-teens-manage-social-conflict.html?auth=link-dismiss-google1tap. Accessed 7 April 2022.
Segal, Jeanne, et al. “Conflict Resolution Skills.” HelpGuide.org, October 2020, https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/conflict-resolution-skills.htm. Accessed 13 April 2022.

 

 

 


WRITTEN BY Kinsey Eix (she/her/hers)