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Many of us have had to make significant changes to our everyday lives in the face of uncertainty and adversity. Social distancing dictates that we spend the bulk of our time indoors with the same people day in and day out. The combination of these can lead to increased stress, anxiety and ultimately, conflict. Here are some tips and strategies to help you navigate disagreements at home or in close quarters.


Be proactive

In times of stress and uncertainty when we may be experiencing a wide range of emotions, disagreements and conflict can be more likely to occur. Being proactive and addressing concerns sooner rather than later can help manage tough situations. For instance, if you are feeling frustrated with your roommate about their dishes in the sink, start a conversation with them early on.

It can be helpful to sit down with your family, significant other or roommates to create a living agreement that outlines how you would like to live together in your shared space. Brainstorming a list together gives everyone a say in the process. Evidence shows that people are more likely to adhere to guidelines when they help create them. Write down every suggestion before working to fine-tune the list. If you need help getting started, consider questions like:

  • What guidelines do we want to put in place for shared areas? (e.g. noise levels, quiet hours, etc.)
  • How can each of us create alone time when needed?
  • What do you need to feel respected?
  • What does support look like for you?
  • What do you need to feel safe?
  • How will we know when you need space/company?

Practice effective communication

Good communication starts with listening. Approach disagreements with a sense of curiosity and utilize active listening skills. This will help you to get past surface-level disagreements and explore the underlying issues. Too often, we focus on how we will respond rather than understanding the other person. Part of active listening is letting the other person finish what they have to say before jumping in or responding. It’s also clarifying that you understand their perspective by asking open ended questions like:

  • Can you tell me more about that?
  • What is important to you about that?

When it is time to share your perspective, do so without assigning blame. Use “I” statements to illustrate the way you feel, the times when you feel it and the reasons you feel that way. You can download a free PDF for examples of active listening and “I” statements from Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (SCCR).


Understand your impact

Understand that your intentions may not always align with the impact they have on other people. In many situations, a half-hearted apology can do more harm than good. It’s important that an apology includes recognition of responsibility for the harm caused and the actions that will be taken in the future to ensure it doesn’t happen again. 

Additionally, it’s a good idea to ask the other person if there is anything that can be done to make things right. For example, a good apology might sound something like, “I’m sorry for not cleaning up after myself. I know that was disrespectful to you. In the future, I’ll be sure to clean up after myself before moving on to other activities. Is there something I can do now to fix this situation?” Avoid using this time to try to explain yourself, and refrain from using statements like, “I’m sorry I made you angry, but…” Instead, empathize with the other person to help resolve the greater conflict.


Know when it’s time for a break

It’s important to understand and recognize things that bother us. Knowing and recognizing things that make us feel upset or angry, can help us take a step back before doing or saying something we don’t mean. Paying attention to the ways our body responds can let us know we may not be in the right headspace to effectively manage a conflict. Do you notice your fist or jaw clenching? Do you feel a tightness in your stomach or chest when situations get tense? It may be a good idea to cool down and take a few deep breaths before starting or continuing the conversation.

If you’re already in the middle of a disagreement, let the other person know you want to have the conversation with them, but that you don’t feel you’re in the right place to have it now. This may sound something like, “I want to have this conversation, but I’m not in the best state of mind right now. I would like to cool down to avoid saying something I don’t mean. Can we talk about this in 20 minutes?” This signals to them that the conflict is important to you, but you also want to handle it effectively.


Reach out for support

If you’re struggling to manage conflict with your roommates, partner, family or other household members, there are resources to help. Student Conflict and Conduct Resolution (SCCR) offers free services to help undergrad and graduate students navigate conflict. Through their programs (currently available virtually), SCCR can help students by:

  •  Facilitating group agreements
  • Providing conflict coaching for individuals and small groups that focus on developing a deeper understanding of how we approach conflict and practicing skills for effective conflict management
  •  Leading virtual group trainings for effective conflict management
  • Facilitating group dialogues that focus on developing community in close quarters, managing conflict and practicing holistic ways of co-existing
  • Mediating conflict between two or more parties
  • Providing additional conflict management advice and support

Reach out to Conflict Resolution to schedule an appointment or get support by calling 303-492-5550 or emailing conflictresolution@colorado.edu. They will also be offering a number of free conflict webinars online

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