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Navigating Conflict in Friendships: 6 Tips for Creating Honest Dialogue

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

By Aneesha Perkins

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

- James Baldwin.

How do you manage and work through conflict in your friendships? As we recently celebrated Friendship Day on August 1st, we wanted to share a few of our favorite tools to help you navigate through challenges in your friendships:

1. Schedule a time to talk through conflicts – When conflict arises in friendships, one or both individuals are likely to feel harmed. While it may be hard to imagine, your friend may have no clue that you are feeling hurt or offended by something they said or did – . Ask your friend if they are open to discussing some challenges that you’ve been experiencing within the friendship. Avoid making your friend a mind reader and take the time out to express what you’ve been experiencing. Ask to meet at a time when you and your friend are not busy or stressed. For example, schedule a meal together or go for a walk. When you meet, gently explain your point of view and how you are feeling about it. Be clear about your concern and what you want in the friendship. Invite your friend to share their concerns as well. Having clear expectations about how you will move forward in your friendship will be helpful to both of you. Friends who feel heard, feel appreciated.

2. Apologize for harm that you have caused – It’s easy to offend or hurt someone, even when it’s unintentional. However, it’s essential to help your friend feel valued and seen within your friendship; therefore, apologize when they express that you have caused harm. Apologies with changed behavior strengthen friendships. Offenses will occur. However, it’s about how you handle them that matters the most. Your apology shows your humanness and ability to be accountable. Accountability births trust, and trusting friendships are restorative.

3. Make Space for Honest Conversations – Effective communication during conflict is vital. Effective communication requires honesty. It can actually make or break your friendship. Conflict with a friend can make certain conversations challenging, but the truth has the power to heal all wounds when presented with care and love. Honesty and authenticity during tough conversations can indeed strengthen and revive one’s friendship while creating a safe space for vulnerability and authenticity. However, be honest without causing more harm. Some people confuse honesty with being hurtful-- they are not the same. Next time you find yourself in a serious discussion with your friend, ask them if they feel that their honesty is welcomed.

4. Ask clarifying questions – We all have different experiences that ultimately shape how we understand and perceive information. With that being said, it can be pretty easy for you and your friend to have totally different perspectives about a specific situation. Therefore, it is helpful to ask for specifics and to use clarifying questions. For instance, ask questions that will help you get more information about your friend’s perception of the situation. You can also repeat back what your friend has said as a way to check that you have clearly understood what they are communicating to you. You can also ask your friend to repeat back to you what you said, so that you can address any misunderstandings. This type of communication may feel awkward at first, but it works. The more you do it, the better you will get.

5. Approach the conversation with curiosity - How you approach these conversations is critical to the outcome. For example, if you assume that your perspective is right and you want to win the argument, then it is not likely to go well. Also, avoid making assumptions about your friend’s actions. Instead, enter the conversation with an open mind and a curiosity about what happened or about their perspective. When you enter the conversation with a goal of getting more information versus winning the argument, you will likely have a more productive discussion and a more meaningful outcome.

6. Practice Pausing – Don’t be afraid to pause during conflict. Communicating during high conflict can make a conversation between friends intense and challenging. When this occurs, it can be helpful to pause for a few minutes when the discussion has become unproductive, and your emotions are high. Stopping to take a step back can help both individuals manage their emotions and refocus on the goals of the conversation. Next time a conversation gets intense, pause for a few minutes. Give yourself a moment to breathe.

Healthy friendships are medicinal and healing to one’s soul. Yet, even healthy friendships experience challenging times every once in a while. Your level of commitment can either help your friendships thrive or dissolve during those times.

Share with us some tools that have been effective for you during conflict among your friend circles and village!

Aneesha Perkins, M.A., is a fourth-year Clinical Psychology doctoral candidate at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology (TCSPP). She obtained her Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology from Trinity Christian College and a Master’s in Clinical Psychology degree from TCSPP in Washington, D.C. She is a writer, speaker, and creative who enjoys helping women find wholeness and healing. Her clinical interests include stress management, self-care, generational patterns, and trauma.

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