If you want to ease conflict, don’t say these five phrases.
Words are powerful, and in moments of conflict, the words we choose can have significant consequences.
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Nikki Harmon, emphasizes the importance of choosing the right words to help de-escalate challenging situations. She shares some phrases that can hinder emotional safety and the alternatives that foster understanding and connection.
If you’re seeking professional guidance in improving your relationships and communication skills, you can connect with Nikki on Instagram @nikkiharmontherapy, or reach out to the Family Therapy Clinic in American Fork, where Nikki is a practicing therapist.
What to Say to Ease Conflict
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
This phrase, though it may seem like an apology, actually deflects accountability and places blame on the other person. Instead, Nikki suggests saying, “I’m sorry. I hurt you,” or “I’m sorry. I did (or didn’t do) this thing.” Taking responsibility for your actions can defuse tension and promote understanding.
Telling someone to calm down rarely achieves the desired result. People calm down when they feel heard and validated. Instead of telling them to calm down, try saying, “I want to hear you. Let me hear you.” This communicates your willingness to listen and can naturally bring down their emotional intensity.
“Why are you making this such a big deal?”
Dismissive statements like this invalidate the other person’s feelings. Instead, ask, “Help me understand why this is so big for you.” This shows empathy and opens the door to a more constructive conversation.
“I don’t care.”
Saying “I don’t care” can be hurtful and make the other person feel unimportant. Instead, express your concern by saying, “I care about you and your experience. If it’s important to you, it’s important to me.” This simple shift in language demonstrates your commitment to the relationship.
“You’re being crazy.”
Name-calling and personal attacks escalate conflicts. Rather than attacking the person, address specific behaviors or express your concern by saying, “Help me understand why you’re escalating.” This approach focuses on the issue at hand, not the individual.
Additionally, Nikki advises against making comparisons like, “You’re just like your mother/father/brother,” as it often serves as a hurtful jab. Instead, communicate your feelings without resorting to comparisons.
Avoid using absolutes like “never” and “always.” These words can sidetrack discussions and prevent addressing the real issues. Shift from accusatory statements like, “You never listen,” to more specific language such as, “I frequently feel unheard when this happens.”
Incorporating these communication strategies not only improves relationships but also helps de-escalate conflicts in various settings, including with your children, colleagues, or friends. By choosing words that promote understanding and empathy, you can navigate conflicts more effectively and maintain healthier connections with those around you.