Doing Business,  Nurturing Family

Conflict Communication-Pt. 5: Using Dialogue to Build Bridges

As much as I love the idea of picture-perfect holiday seasons, the reality is that the holidays come with prepackaged conflict most of the time–conflict at work and conflict at home. At work, most have the added pressure of fewer days to get work completed or crabby patrons who are trying to get extra projects completed for that Norman Rockwell Christmas. At home, presents, baking, and events pile up, while we dread the idea of having to deal with Cousin Eddie at the gatherings.

Experts used to recommend that when engaged in conflict use “I” instead of “you” and all will be well because it isn’t placing blame (Johnson, 2012). However, read this statement and see how you feel, “I feel upset when shoes are left by the door.” The person hearing this statement is still going to feel blame and possibly react defensively. More often than not, we approach conflict with the intent to defend ourselves and be the “winner”. Nearly always, this ends in someone leaving with a sour taste in their mouth. It has ruined more than one family’s holidays over the years!

One of the best ways we can deal with conflict, no matter what time of year or what type of conflict, is through dialogue. Patterson et al. (2002) defined dialogue as “The free flow of meaning between two or more people” (p. 20). Here are the keys to dialogue that builds bridges:

  1. Check your heart. Where are you emotionally and spiritually? Are you ready to engage in a dialogue that is a creation of meaning? If not, step back, find some quiet, and get there first.
  2. Check the landscape. Look around you. Are you alone with the other person? Are others in attendance? What type of event or situation is it? Depending on answers to those questions, the type of dialogue you enter may change. If you aren’t sure you can enter into constructive meaning-making dialogue with the other person, it may be best to remain quiet or distanced.
  3.  Look at all aspects of communication. Attend to the TRIP goals (topic, relationship, identity, and process). Make sure that you and the other person are on the same page and have a clear idea of how you will engage in the dialogue. Make sure you attend to both the relationship and each other’s identity.
  4. Explore the other’s perspective. Start with a question. Ask why or how or what? Ask without judgment. Explore how they see something.
  5. State your perspective. Present your side, how you see things.
  6. Explore the gap. Exploring the gap is done together. Seek to find the similarities, discuss the differences, and enjoy the conversation!

While conflict is necessary for deep, quality relationships, we must also ask ourselves if a particular conflict worth it. Often, what bothers us today will seem like nothing tomorrow, especially during times of stress–the holidays!

Wishing you all the best this holiday season! We would love to hear how you build bridges with dialogue during conflict!

Contribute by Liz Hunt


Johnson, J. A. (2012, Nov. 30). Are “I” statements better than “you” statements? Psychology Today. Retreived on December 1, 2020 from

Patterson, K. Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2002). Crucial conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

Patterson, K. Grenny, J., McMillan, R., & Switzler, A. (2005). Crucial confrontations: Tools for resolving broken promises, violated expectations, and bad behavior. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

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