3.8 High Conflict Communications


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Sometimes the people that you have to deal with become angry easily, lay blame quickly or act in a way that makes it very difficult to resolve conflict with them. When the conflict is too high it becomes hard to have productive conversations.

Often, when conflict is high, people give up trying to work it out. Instead, they end up in court. But to avoid the costs and headaches of court, it’s worth trying to communicate – even in high conflict situations. Here are some tips that can help you deal with high conflict communications.

Techniques for High Confliction Communication  

1. Know You Can’t Change Them

Things become easier when you realize that you have no control over the thoughts, behaviour and actions of the other person. The best approach is to focus on your own words actions. Don’t get drawn in to the conflict the other person brings. Getting into a fight won’t get either of you anywhere. Accept that the other person brings conflict. Have the patience to get around it and the determination to get beyond it. Make sure that your own words and actions help the conversation move forward.

2. Notice and Accept Automatic Reactions

When faced with anger, insults, manipulation, or lies, natural reactions include lashing back, feeling like a victim, losing hope and wanting to give up. These reactions are understandable and natural. It is important to notice and accept these automatic reactions as they happen. Noticing and accepting our automatic reactions gives us some extra space to replace automatic reactions with communication techniques that are more likely to be helpful.

These are the times to take a pause or a deep breath. Refocus the conversation instead of reacting to negativity. Use “I” statements to connect your feelings and the other person’s actions. Sometimes you should just let it go and move on. Sometimes you should take a break. Stay professional – stick to the agenda and move toward positive solutions.

3. Don’t Mirror

Remember your triggers. Don’t respond to angry or hurtful comments that are aimed at you. Filter those out and focus on what is relevant to the topic you are discussing. Your former spouse may be agitating you, provoking you to blow up. Don’t give them the satisfaction. Instead, stay calm and use a calm tone. Anger can be disarmed when met with patience and calm.

Remind yourself that the other person’s actions are a reflection of what he or she is going through. This isn’t easy for anyone. Your former spouse is feeling deeply hurt. As unlikely as it seems, it is not about you. Try your best not to take it personally, even if that is difficult.

Strategies for High Conflict Communications

The table below provides a series of strategies for dealing with high conflict and it provides examples of what to say. These strategies can be really powerful. But it can be hard to remember them in the heat of the moment. To help, try practicing them with a friend.

Have your friend talk about the separation and pretend to be angry. Have these strategies in front of you and try to practice using each one. Chances are, you will find one or two that can be really effective at helping your former spouse move away from conflict to refocus on moving forward.


 Examples of what to say

Summarize their main point in neutral words

“What I hear you saying is that you don’t want Shawn to take piano lessons because you feel they aren’t useful.”

Acknowledge their feelings

“I hear you loud and clear. You are fed up with this.”

“I understand that you are feeling hurt…”

Focus them back on the topic that you are discussing

“I understand that you have a lot to say about my lawyer. Right now I would like us to focus on discussing the piano lessons.”

Ask for a chance to explain what is important to you

“We still have to make a decision about this. I would like a chance to talk about why I think the piano lessons are important. Could you please give me just 2 minutes?”

Ask them to suggest a solution

“So what do you suggest?”

“How do you think we can work this out?”

Acknowledge their suggestion and

  • Agree with it


  • Modify their suggestion


  • Put forward your own solution


  • “OK. That’s a good idea. I am will pay for the piano lessons.”
  • “You are suggesting I pay for the piano lessons. I agree that I should pay a bigger portion. How about if I pay 75%?”
  • “You are suggesting I pay for the piano lessons. But financially, that would be hard for me right now. Could we try splitting it 50-50 for three months? Hopefully my finances will improve by then. What do you think?”


Now that you’ve learned the tips and strategies for communicating in high conflict situations, take a moment to fill in the Communication Worksheet. The worksheet is a good review of the different techniques that you have just examined. Completing the worksheet will help you be better prepared when you are engaged in high conflict communications.