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Words to Avoid to Effectively Communicate During Conflict


Regardless of the relationship, conflict is inevitable. Being able to handle conflict well takes practice and time, and even with developed skills, conflict can still be left unresolved. Having an awareness of your motives when entering a difficult conversation helps you set the tone of the discussion. In addition to being aware of your motives and how they are being communicated, it is essential to be mindful of the words you use to navigate conflict more effectively.

1. "And" versus "But"

When in conflict, we may use the word "but" right after we say something positive or neutral to communicate a concern or something we don't like. The goal in avoiding the use of the word "but" during a conflict is to avoid negating what preceded it, which could increase the other person's defensiveness such as "you're really nice, but..." Using "and" instead helps more accurately communicate what you mean and decreases the other person's opposition such as "you're really nice, and I think we should work through..."

2. "Always" and "Never"

Using "always" and "never" communicates absolutes and little consideration for contributing factors to why the other person may be doing something. Using phrases such as, "you're never on time..." or "you always do that..." communicates disrespect and judgment and puts a person in a box. Choose other words to speak more accurately and leave room for understanding the other person.

3. "Just," "Still," and "Finally"

The word "just" can reflect your thoughts about the relevance or importance of something being discussed. Saying, "it's just one thing..." or "I'm just asking about..." can decrease the importance of what is being discussed and evoke defensiveness and pain in the other person. Using the words "still" and "finally" can cast judgment on the other person related to time such as "you're still doing..." or "he finally realized..." Decreasing your use of still and finally will reduce the chances of the other person feeling judged and prevent downward spiraling in the conflict.

Effective Communication Comes with Practice

As stated before, being effective in conflict takes time and practice. Shifting your phrases and avoiding certain words will help you become a better communicator and decrease the defensiveness in the other person, thereby welcoming healthy conflict resolution to take place.

Discover better ways to work through conflict with the Say What? Connecting Through Communication & Conflict module from the Relationship IQ Curriculum.