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Dealing with conflict

Conflict (say: kon-flikt) = When people do not see things the same way.

Conflict: it’s part of everyone’s life
Conflict: how do you react?
Dealing with conflict: take it step by step
Interactive tool: Mix up at the movies
What if you can't work it out on your own?
When to walk away

Conflict: it’s part of everyone’s life top

When you were younger, an adult would often step in if you had a problem with someone else, like if someone’s feelings got hurt or someone took something from you without asking. Now that you’re getting older, you need to learn how to deal with conflict on your own. That’s because conflict is part of everyone’s life—it will show up at school, at work, at home, in your community, and in relationships. Check it out...

(If the tool above does not appear, please take a look at our text version of this tool.
Viewing the above requires the Adobe® Flash® Player.)

For small problems, a simple “I’m sorry” is often all it takes to feel better and move on. But not all conflicts are easily worked out. Some issues are not clear-cut, like if you and a friend are not getting along so well and you’re not sure why. Other conflicts are felt by only you, like if you don’t want to do what the rest of the crowd is doing, or if you are being bullied.

Avoiding a conflict can sometimes be good, but sometimes it can make things worse. In most cases, when you are angry, it’s best to tell the other person what you are feeling. If you don’t talk about it, your anger will most likely come out in another way, like in the tone of your voice or in your body language. This can make the problem even worse. By avoiding conflict or trying to run from the problem, you might:

  • lose a good friend girl avoiding friends thinking 'I don't need them anyway'
  • be treated unfairly at work or school
  • not get something you want or need
  • feel like you can never make things better

Conflict: how do you react? top

It’s okay to feel angry, upset, annoyed, let down, or sad when you have a problem with somebody else. These feelings are normal. Still, some people deal with these feelings in unhealthy ways. You most likely know people—maybe even some adults—who yell, shout, swear, or call people names when they’re upset. Maybe they try to “get back at” the person they’re mad at. Or, maybe they hit others or get into fights. These types of things make it harder to work things out. Let yourself feel your emotions, but don’t let them get out of hand and lead you to do these things.

Dealing with conflict: take it step by step top

two girls arguing face to face Step 1. Cool off! Being out of control will keep you from solving the problem.
  • Count down backwards from 10.
  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths.
  • Think of a peaceful place or something that makes you happy.
  • Slowly say over and over to yourself, "Take it easy."

Step 2. Keep it real! Figure out what’s really bothering you.

  • Do you not agree?
  • Did someone say or do something that made you mad or hurt your feelings?
  • Are you feeling the way you do now because of something else that upset you in the past?
  • Is this a one-time problem or one that keeps happening?

Step 3. Deal with the issue.

  • Find a time when you can talk in private.
  • Keep your voice calm and your body relaxed. Make eye contact to show you are serious.
  • Say exactly what is bothering you. Share how you feel by using sentences that start with “I.” Don’t blame or accuse the other person. Check out the following examples and then practice changing "you" statements to "I" statements.

    Instead of:

    “You never want to hang out with me anymore.”


    “I feel left out when you hang out with Tracy’s friends.”

    Instead of:

    “You always pick on me in class.”


    “I feel singled out when you call on me more than other students.”

    Instead of:

    “You’re so bossy.”


    “I feel upset when you don’t listen to what I think.”

  • Keep the conflict between you and only the others involved. Don’t ask friends to take sides.

Step 4. Listen. The other person might see the problem in a different way. You may each have a different point of view, but neither of you is wrong. Make sure to listen to his or her side of the story.

  • Make eye contact. This shows you are interested in what the other person is saying and willing to solve the problem.
  • Listen for what is behind the words—like feelings and ideas.
  • Keep emotions in check. Don’t interrupt, get angry, judge, or be defensive.
  • Try putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to see where he or she is coming from.

Step 5. Work it out. Talk about ways to settle the conflict that will meet both of your needs. Be willing to change and keep an open mind. Be willing to say you’re sorry, forgive, and move on.

Check out how a conflict can either turn into a big blow-up or be resolved, depending on your response.

(If the tool above does not appear, please take a look at our text version of this tool.
Viewing the above requires the Adobe® Flash® Player.)

What if you can't work it out on your own? top

Mediation (say: mee-dee-ay-shun) = Bringing in an outside person(s) to help end a fight.

Parents/guardians, teachers, school nurses, coaches, counselors, and other trusted adults can help you deal with conflicts. Some schools have mediation programs that help teens figure out the real issue, talk through things, and find ways to fix their problems. Don’t be shy about asking for help.

When to walk away top

You can’t always find a way to solve a conflict. If the other person doesn’t want to work it out—or if the conflict gets physical—give it a rest and walk away. Keeping safe is always the smart way to go!

Content last updated June 26, 2008

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.