When you’re in the heat of a fight do you have a tendency to explode or say things you don’t mean? Or do you withdraw in anger and become silent?

Both of these reactions to conflict are very common communication-blocking techniques. Effective communication is something we hear a lot about but often I think the meaning is unclear. 

In today’s episode, I’m breaking down the top 4 communication blockers + giving you sentence starters and scripts to help. You’ll learn what you can do to break these unhelpful behavior patterns and work towards actually solving conflict with effective communication instead.

Prefer the audio? Listen here.

It can be challenging to communicate effectively even when life is calm and when we are in conflict it is exponentially more difficult.

One of the hardest parts of being in a relationship is managing our responses in the heat of the moment. It’s another one of those things (like boundaries) that so many of us just weren’t taught how to deal with. 

The first crucial step to making a shift into healthier and more productive conflict management is to understand yourself. How do you respond when you are feeling threatened, activated, or when you disagree with someone?

It is common to take unhealthy action when we are in an activated state of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn, but if your goal is better relationships, more intimacy, and more love in your life, raising your awareness of your behavioral patterns in conflict is essential to making changes for the better. 

Let’s talk about the 4 top conflict communication blockers:

Conflict Communication Block #1: The inability to express your own needs. 

When you are in conflict does your mind ever go blank? Depending on your lived experiences and background, conflict can feel threatening enough to kick up your freeze response and leave you speechless. Even if your response to a perceived threat is fight, flight, or fawn, you still are unlikely to be able to express your needs in an effective way. 

What to do instead: Tell the truth and negotiate to get your needs met. 

It is our job to get clarity on why we respond the way we do before we find ourselves in a heated conflict. Ask yourself, “What is the unmet need?” 

When you are feeling angry, upset, hurt, or resentful in any relationship, I invite you to write it all out in a journal. While it may feel awkward at first to write down how you feel, it can be an effective tool to get clear before you approach the other person. 

Then, you can read what you wrote to the other person. My therapy clients would often feel weird about doing this at first, but I promise you, once you get the words out in a way that feels true to you, you will feel so much more confident. And the more you practice, the more normal it will feel. 

What we’re doing is inviting our person into our process to be a part of our solution instead of a part of the problem. 

Of course, we hope they’re going to care about the way we feel and what we want. But, no matter how they respond, the important thing to understand is half of your healing comes from identifying your need, understanding your feelings, and speaking your truth. Honestly sharing your boundary request of feelings is a win right there! 

In this week’s guide, I have questions to help you go through this process and a script you can make your own to help you express yourself, so be sure to download it here now. 

Conflict Communication Block #2: Listening to talk.

When you are in conflict and the other person is talking, are you just waiting to jump back in to prove your argument? Do you have a “win at all costs” mentality? How important is it for you to be “right”? 

It can be so tempting to want to poke holes in the other person’s theory or to prove them wrong in the heat of the moment, but the truth is, it is impossible to be loving and want a resolution and want to crush our “opponent” simultaneously. We can’t have both of those things. 

What to do instead: Create more space and listen with the intention of understanding. 

When we are listening to understand, we are not gathering evidence to make the other person wrong or to build our case. Instead of trying to win, you can ask open-ended questions like, “Is there more you want to say about that?” and, “How do you feel about that?” 

It’s like any skill you build – it’s going to take a minute. But the goal is to get out of polarization during conflict and prevent stalemates in your relationships. It is moving from a you versus me mentality into an us versus the problem intention in order to come to a deeper understanding of what the other person is experiencing. 

My recommendation is to create regular dates to openly discuss whatever might be going on in your relationship in order to normalize healthy problem-solving. Inside the guide, I have tips to help you institute your very own “State of the Union” in your relationship, so be sure to grab it here now. 

Conflict Communication Block #3: Using the silent treatment (stonewalling).

Do you shut down and go silent in a fight? The silent treatment or stonewalling is an extremely damaging form of passive-aggressive anger, even if it does not feel like anger in the moment.

Stonewalling looks like one person shutting down completely and becoming totally unresponsive during conflict. They may act like the other person isn’t even there, physically turning away or even leaving. It can also look like giving minimal responses and reactions, like one-word answers. It is a way of punishing the other person by withdrawing. 

Trust me, I mastered the art of stonewalling when I was in my twenties because I didn’t have any skills. It took years in therapy to learn the skills to communicate what was really bothering me, what was on my heart, but when I did, my relationship with myself and with others dramatically improved. 

What to do instead: Choose to use your words to name your feelings. 

Learning how this skill is how I got out of my pattern of stonewalling. It sounds something like this: 

“Hey, I’m upset right now. My first instinct is to ignore you and give you the silent treatment. I want to ignore the entire situation, but I want us to effectively problem solve more. So can you please give me a few minutes to cool off and think about how I feel?”

“Then let’s come back together and talk it out because I love you and I don’t wanna fight or ignore you to make a point.”

Again, this can be difficult when you start, but if you keep practicing, it gets easier. You get to meet your need in a heated moment, which is time and space to step away and to recalibrate your nervous system so you can get clarity on what you feel. 

So instead of acting out, you break the compulsion of stonewalling by talking it out. You can grab the guide to learn how to make this script your own and get more specific about your needs in the moment right here

Conflict Communication Block #4: Defensiveness and blame.

Do you play the blame game? Are you someone who gets super defensive in an argument? This communication block is probably the most common because, in conflict, we can feel threatened and like the victim, so we try to justify our behavior or blame it on the other person. 

Defensive behavior can be fueled by unresolved shame and/or excessive feelings of being judged or criticized in relationships. A lot of times these feelings can come from unhealed experiences in childhood. You might have grown up with a very critical adult in your life or you might have seen blaming and shaming behaviors modeled in your family of origin- to the point where it feels like that’s just what you do in an argument. 

What to do instead: Do the inner work to understand your patterns.

This is where your self-work really needs to come in. If you notice a pattern of defensiveness in conflict, work to understand your own reactions and raise your awareness of why you might be using blame and shame as a tool to win arguments. 

Become an expert on defensiveness (I have more resources for you in the guide) and commit to understanding your own behavior. As one of my psychological heroes, Dr. Harriet Lerner would say, “Defensiveness is the arch enemy of listening.” You can’t be defensive and be listening to understand at the same time- again- it is impossible! 

Avoid kitchen-sinking- this is where you throw all of your past grievances at the other person. It’s not fair or effective to bring up something that happened in 1978 or the last 10 things you’ve been pissed off about at the other person when you’re in a fight. It pretty much guarantees you’re not going to resolve anything. If you’re talking about an issue, stick to that one issue. 

Another idea to avoid blame and shame is using “I” statements to communicate your own experience as opposed to pointing fingers. Take a break, take a breath, and think about your 50% of that interaction. 

I promise you can learn to assert yourself in clear and healthy ways to ask for what it is you want- even during conflict! Be sure to download your conflict resolution guide right here for more scripts, sentence starters, and tips.

I would love to know what your thoughts are so please, drop me a comment here or connect with me on Instagram @terricole. I hope this added value to your life, have an amazing week, and as always, take care of you.

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  1. Great ideas to communicate in a healthy way – I used to interrupt and try to defend myself in a nasty way. Always felt talked down to. I get hurt and get defensive and shut down – – thank you for addressing this. So hard for me to change but I am

  2. Thanks so much Terri for this post on communicating during conflict. This is an area where I need to grow! Frankly, currently I am not good at this. Can you write or talk about how someone with ADHD can be dealing with Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria? I sense that this is what happens with me. Not every time my husband and I disagree – yet, a good 2/3 of the time. It is completely overwhelming and the flooding is intense. The idea of risking feeling that again by coming back and sharing my feelings and truth with him – well, it’s hard to do. Also, how do you stay positive when the other person is not ready to work on their part?

    1. Thanks for the questions, Jo. I am not an expert on RSD but I can say that changing the communication dance during conflict is challenging for most people so slow and steady is the way to go. The top priority has to be to create a safe environment within to communicate, which can include jointly coming up with rules of engagement to keep it safe.

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