The Four Horsemen (of communication in conflict)

Conflict is about communication. How do we tell someone that there is a conflict? How do we communicate that there’s a problem? What are the worst things we could do or say in a conflict, and how can we avoid them?

Conflict is a struggle between people (lots of people, or just two) that is expressed in our behavior and/or words. Sometimes this expression of struggle is nonverbal, like avoiding the other person and not responding to their calls or texts. But other times this expression is verbal through tone of voice, words, or the dirty looks. All of these expressions are done to try and affect the other person. Maybe we are trying to make them feel bad, signal to them that we feel bad, or make them feel miserable or to blame for the situation in which you find yourselves.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dr. John Gottman developed a model of problematic behaviors in conflict that he termed the “four horsemen of the apocalypse” (Gottman 1993; Lisitsa 2013). The four horsemen are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.