Every relationship has its share of conflicts; it’s no secret that it’s how those conflicts are handled that matters most. Now new research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that simply feeling understood can mitigate conflict’s impact – and even enable conflict to improve relationships.
Amie Gordon and Serena Chen of the University of California San Francisco conducted a study in which participants wrote about a specific conflict that had occurred in their current relationship. People reported a lower degree of satisfaction—if, and only if, they were asked to consider a conflict where their partner didn’t understand them. This suggests that conflict needn’t be harmful to a relationship if it occurs in the context of feeling understood.
A diary study over a two week period also showed the positive effects of feeling understood (this time measured by items like: "Today, how much do you think your partner was able to accurately understand what you were thinking and feeling?"). As participants went about their lives, conflicts accompanied by feeling understood by one’s partner didn't appear to lower people’s satisfaction with the relationship.
This confirms our own research: Regardless of whether we get exactly what we want, our relationships can survive—even thrive—in the face of conflict. When arguing with your partner or work associate, try asking clarifying questions and requesting specific examples of what they are upset about. This can help you understand them and help them feel understood.
We want to hear. How do you and people at work and in your personal life attempt to make one another feel understood, even in conflict? To join the conversation, click "comments" on our Community of Practice Forum.
If you would like to read more about creating a habit around masterful communication, check out our book: Be Quiet, Be Heard: The Paradox of Persuasion.