Be Less Confrontational As You Age

By American Geriatrics Society (AGS), Health in Aging Foundation

However, conflict is a part of life. Some people never figure out how to handle it well. As you get older, you may feel like you spend much of your life fighting with people — your younger boss, your kids, your spouse, the girl at the supermarket, your best friend.

On one hand, you don’t want your middle name to be Doormat, but on the other hand, being in constant conflict with other people is exhausting. It upsets your stomach, and it demolishes your hard-earned optimistic view of life. Some people — hopefully you’re not one of them — feel that everything in life is worth fighting about, and they spend most of their life in emotional turmoil. Learn to choose your battles; some things really aren’t worth fighting about.

Ask yourself, “Will this matter in a month?” If the answer is no, why get yourself tied up in knots over it?

Handling conflict means taking the high road sometimes and searching for the win-win solution in every situation. This resolution isn’t the same as giving in. If everybody wins, everybody’s happy, including you. Facing conflict and traveling the paths to overcoming it builds character and confidence.

Defuse conflict by using some of these techniques:

  • Know what you believe and stick to it. Have a core set of values — a balanced mix of self-awareness and confidence — while still being open-minded and accepting of other viewpoints. These values allow you to take a stand when moral or ethical issues arise and feel confident every time. Having a firm foundation of beliefs lets others see you as committed rather than defensive and antagonistic.
  • Look for common ground. Keep focused on a positive, solution-based outcome. You may only agree to disagree, but you can do it without killing each other.
  • Realize that other people are human too. Other people often may not live up to your expectation of them. Don’t be surprised, disappointed, or upset to the point of argument when this happens. Being human, however, is a two-way street; you may not always live up to others’ expectations — or your own! Cut yourself the same break that you’d give someone else when you’re not living up to your expectations. And if you’re not living up to someone else’s expectations, look at yourself with a clear eye instead of assuming that you’re in the right every time. Maybe you really can do better.
  • Think carefully before setting yourself up for confrontational situations. Do certain topics push your hot buttons with certain people? Then don’t talk about them with that person unless you’re in the mood for a good argument. Does driving 12 hours in the car with your spouse turn you into someone who would argue that the sky isn’t blue? Make alternate plans. (Maybe one of you could fly and the other could drive, or you could stop halfway and stay overnight.) Recognize your conflict triggers and avoid them.
  • Figure out why something is upsetting you. Every argument has a root cause, and often the thing you’re actually arguing about isn’t really the source of aggravation at all. Ask yourself, “What’s really causing this conflict, and why am I reacting the way I am?”
  • Always think win-win. There’s almost always a way for both parties to feel they’ve won. Put away your swords. Look for a way that each side can walk away with a benefit. Resolving a conflict can be a great lesson in seeing an issue from another person’s perspective, whether you agree with it or not. After you arrive at a win-win solution, accept it and implement it. Make sure that each person takes responsibility for agreeing with the decision.
  • Check your emotions at the door. Conflict resolution is about problem solving, which is a logical process. Emotions color your perceptions and your logic and cloud the rational thinking that’s essential to arriving at a mutually acceptable solution.
  • Put your heads together. Two heads are better than one, and three may be better yet. The more people who are focused on the solution, the better the odds of a successful outcome.