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  • Writer's pictureMegan Huang

Navigating Conflict: How to Manage Tensions during an Unprecedented Lockdown

Updated: Jun 29, 2020

Humans are social creatures. In order to survive, we are compelled to form relationships, relying on cooperation with others to thrive. Being naturally drawn to other humans positions social relationships as a key part of our lives.

However, in the unprecedented COVID-19 Circuit Breaker Phase 1 situation, it is inevitable that some of us face difficulties in navigating our relationships within the shared, confined spaces of our own homes. The abrupt changes and stay home measures implemented during these times are a dual edged sword - while giving us more time to spend with our family members, it can also promote greater instances of conflict. Living in close proximity with only a few other people generates frustration and anxiety. Coupled with disruptions in our daily routines and the need to adjust to a “new normal” as a family, this sparks conflict and tension within the household and strains our relationships with family members.

From my own experience, I’ve realized that conflicts within the household have come to the forefront during the circuit breaker period. Having experienced conflicts within my own home and hearing some of my neighbours raise their voices at each other since the partial lockdown started, I’ve summarized 5 tips on how to navigate conflict in a shared space which I hope will be useful to you especially in times like these!

#1: Communicate

The primary cause of conflict often stems from misunderstandings, which are in turn caused by misinformation. Often, we act on our perceptions to analyze the misunderstanding or disagreement at hand (which aren’t always right), thereby making the situation worse.

Setting aside your emotions. Conflicts can get heated and uncomfortable, but it is crucial for us to compartmentalize and leave our emotions aside to work through a conflict and come to a resolution. Communicate by focusing on the conflict at hand rather than bringing up past conflicts or attacking the other party with other “faults” they may have, which would only escalate the conflict further.

Agree to negotiate and establish common ground. Communication works both ways. When we work through a conflict, we have to be open to negotiating with the other party to establish common ground and defuse the situation. Try to listen to the other person’s perspective rather than making it all about you - Appreciating a different perspective makes us more conscious about not repeating the same mistakes, while helping us understand the other party better to minimize the occurrence of other conflicts in the future. Here, adopting a compromising or accommodating conflict management style displays your desire to preserve the relationship and reach mutually beneficial outcomes together. Here is a list of conflict management styles and how to utilize them effectively!

#2: Figuring out what makes you Tick

What makes you tick? Everyone possesses a different set of triggers, which are deeply linked to our emotions and can provoke reactions such as irritation, anger, sadness and happiness. These triggers range from loud noises, dirty environments, or the use of certain words - Ultimately, it could be anything.

Living in a shared space for a prolonged period of time causes events such as having personal space invaded from time to time by well-meaning parents or siblings, outbursts of heated arguments, or having to deal with the undesirable habits of family members or neighbours. While we were once able to “escape” from these events pre-lockdown by stepping out of the house, we are now stuck with having to deal with these triggers head-on, twenty four hours a day with little reprieve. With mounting stress and irritation, these conditions are a hotbed for conflict to erupt.

Undeniably, while we may not be able to completely eliminate certain triggers by forcing the people we live with to change their actions and habits, we could definitely learn how to react better to these events. For example, we could identify and master these triggers by taking note of what goes through our head during these situations and how we usually behave to look at how we could react better. Remember: self-understanding is key to improvement!

Even after identifying and taking control of our triggers, it could still take us a while to adjust ourselves to our new environment and the quirks of our family members. Don’t force yourself to accept these triggers all at once: Try to focus on adapting to these situations slowly. With practice, things will feel more comfortable for you.

#3: Acknowledge your Role in the Conflict

Surely you’ve heard of the phrase, “It takes two hands to clap”. This is definitely applicable in the context of conflicts or arguments which are often a result of the actions of more than one party. More often than not (as much as we hesitate to believe it), it is impossible to pin the blame on one person as conflicts can be complicated or built-up over time.

When our ego gets in the way, it definitely isn’t easy to acknowledge your part in the conflict. My advice is to be brave and calm in communicating or working through the issue - avoid getting defensive if the other party points out your faults or tells you about something that you could have done better. Although lowering our guard can make us feel uncomfortable or unnatural since it opens us up to a state of emotional vulnerability, making ourselves vulnerable ultimately communicates how much we value the relationship, prioritizing a peaceful resolution over blaming or hurting the other party.

#4: Establishing Personal Space

Many articles have pointed out how the once clearly demarcated spaces between home, work and leisure have become increasingly blurred during the COVID-19 Lockdown. Since the implementation of the Circuit Breaker and Work-from-Home measures, one often works, exercises and rests all in the same place during this period. While this may sound extra-convenient at first, these arrangements ultimately promote distress and feelings of claustrophobia after being cooped up in a limited space over time.

Apart from establishing designated work, play and leisure zones in our homes, I believe that it is equally important for us to work on creating personal spaces for ourselves mentally and emotionally. Whether it’s setting aside a fixed time every day to listen to your favorite music or read a book alone in your room, or incorporating regular exercise into your daily schedule for some fresh air, don’t forget to have pockets of isolated “me-time” during this period.

#5: Start Small - Don’t Underestimate Baby Steps!

Naturally, change doesn’t happen overnight. Managing conflicts or disagreements with others doesn’t entail a 180-degree change in both parties’ attitude or actions, but usually occurs in a series of small steps taken to correct certain habits and perceptions. After all, long-term change has to start somewhere, right?

Taking mindful, tangible actions to avoid making the same mistakes is integral to prevent unpleasant situations or conflicts from cropping up time and again. Learning how to manage our own emotions also gives us the power to choose how we feel or react to certain situations, allowing us to take small, deliberate steps to change our actions and perspectives in the long run.

After reading this article, I hope you’ve gained new insights on how to manage conflict and tensions while living in a shared space during the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker (and beyond!). Navigating conflict and managing others’ perspectives can definitely be a challenging feat in these times, and we totally understand if you’re struggling with that.

If you have any other suggestions on managing conflict, do share them with us in the comments section! Stay safe for the remainder of Phase 1 :-)

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