Navigating Conflict with Unreasonable People

Everyone knows that it’s impossible to avoid conflict in our personal and professional life. At times, the people in our lives can be completely unreasonable when it comes to conflict. If you are facing conflict with an unreasonable person, it is critical to find effective conflict management strategies.

As a psychologist, I spend countless hours coaching my clients how to approach and manage conflict. Over the years, I’ve compiled a list of five strategies that have been effective in helping my clients navigate conflict with unreasonable people.  

However, before utilizing these strategies, it is critical to get in the right frame of mind. For example, if you are raising your voice or giving someone the silent treatment, you must leave the situation and re-approach the conflict once you have calmed down. In addition, you must manage your anxiety level before approaching the conflict and take time to write out the key points you would like to discuss. Only a calm, prepared mind can effectively implement the five strategies below.

1. The Broken Record/ Clarification Technique

The broken record technique consists of stating repeatedly what you want in a direct manner and/ or asking repeatedly for clarification. You can use this technique when making a request by repeatedly stating your request like a broken record rather than engaging in back and forth discussion that derails you from your goal. In addition, when attempting to gain clarification, you can repeat back what the person said as a way to avoid responding in a defensive manner. This slows down the communication and gives you time to think about your response. It also helps the other person think more about what they are saying to you.

2. Content-to-Process Shift

The content-to-process shift changes the focus of your discussion with someone from the content of the discussion to a description of what’s going on between you. If someone responds to you in an irritable or sarcastic manner, or brings up something irrelevant to avoid your request, you can, (1) point out what they are doing (content-to-process shift) and (2) bring the focus back to your point.

3. Fogging

Fogging is best used with someone who is being critical of you. It involves agreeing in part to the criticism even when you do not believe all of it. You need to do this in a calm, quiet tone of voice without being defensive or sarcastic. If you do not agree with the specific criticism, you can agree with the general principle behind the criticism and simply say, “You may be right.” When you agree with someone, they have little tendency to come back and criticize or argue with you further. When you respond defensively or argumentatively to someone else’s critical remarks, it gives them someone to spar with. Fogging effectively stops communication before the other person can escalate to a disagreement

4. Defusing

Defusing is a delaying tactic best used when someone responds to you in a defensive, angry or irritable manner. In personal or professional relationships, people may express negative feelings from time to time. You might say, “I can see that you are upset, let’s discuss this later.”

5. Assertive Inquiry

When someone attacks you, you can often defuse the attack by asking them why they are having such a problem with you or your request.

Questions to Contemplate

  • Think of a time when you experienced a conflict with an unreasonable person. Which of the 5 strategies could you have used to manage the conflict?
  • Now, try to imagine how the conversation would have unfolded differently. Would you have managed your reactions better? If so, why?
  • Describe how using these conflict management strategies (broken record/clarification, content-to-process shift, fogging, defusing, or assertive inquiry) could improve your relationships.

Final Thoughts

By staying calm and preparing for conflict with an unreasonable person, you can skillfully utilize the strategies above to navigate conflict.

Contact me. If you would like to schedule counseling or coaching sessions to help improve your ability to manage conflict, please email me through my website.

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