How to Handle Conflict: 3 Tips for Highly Sensitive People

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No one loves conflict, but some—like highly sensitive people (HSPs)—find it more intolerable than others. According to a study published in the journal Brain and Behavior, 20 percent of the population is considered highly sensitive, or biologically wired to be more sensitive and responsive to the world around them. (Here’s a quick quiz to find out if you’re an HSP.) Unfortunately, as much of a bummer as confrontation can be, it’s also a fact of life. Here, how to handle conflict in three clear steps. 

1. Don’t put it off too long.

You know when you don’t want to do something so you procrastinate and make excuses until it gets even more daunting? Avoiding necessary conflict is the same. If your roommate keeps leaving dirty dishes in the sink and it’s driving you nuts, don’t wait until the pile reaches the ceiling to address it. The longer you put it off, the harder it will be.

2. If you can prepare, prepare.

This doesn’t apply to sudden, unexpected conflict, but if you know you have to have an uneasy conversation, visualize it in advance. If you’re nervous to approach your boss about being overwhelmed at work, imagine knocking on your boss’s door, explaining the concrete reasons why you won’t be able to finish your project on time, and imagine a calm, positive resolution. According to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, positive visualization is almost as effective as actually doing an activity, and this applies to social interactions, too. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to get flustered and overwhelmed. By mentally mapping out what you want to say and what you want to get out of an exchange, you’re more likely to say your piece.

3. Unwind afterward.

Phew. Tough conversations can take a lot out of anyone, but they can be particularly crushing to highly sensitive people. Now’s the time to focus on self-care and healing. Take time to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling, and give yourself a little extra TLC, whether that means meditating or taking a nap or giving yourself a manicure.

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sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...