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SURF for Resolving Conflict

Updated: May 23, 2022

Conflict brings about great difficulty and stress for most of us. It can feel daunting, risky, difficult, and something we want to avoid. However, conflict can be a key moment in a relationship and one that helps strengthen and improve relationships.

Once our body and mind identify that a problem/event has occurred, it sets off a chain of events that can easily throw us into a state of array. Our animal-survival brain kicks into gear and prepares us to fight, flight, freeze or feign. With the survival mode in play, our thoughts and emotions run wild and often drives us to act in ways that may be unbecoming of us. This mode can lead to an ineffective way to understand and perceive others, and an inflexible and unhelpful attitude for resolving conflict. At times, it even leads us off the path and into arguments that do not touch the root causes of our present conflict. However, I always like to remind people that the emotions that arise, are merely trying to communicate to ourselves that something is amiss and that we would like some changes to occur and want resolutions to the problem.

To provide some structure to this state of disarray, I developed the acronym SURF to give people a tool to utilize and follow when conflicts arise in their life.

S - Stop

U – Understand the Problem

R – Repair and Resolve

F – Focus on the Future

S: Stop and step away

  • When our emotions get heightened to an unmanageable level, the most important step in management is stopping our self from reacting based on those emotions.

  • This step entails getting away from the problem situation/person and taking some time to slow ourselves down, and implement healthy coping tools to help our thinking brain (cortex) come back online.

U: Understand the Problem

  • When we are emotionally escalated, our understanding and perception of the problem can become distorted.

  • After calming ourselves to lessen our emotional reactivity, this step entails reflecting on the problem at hand. This may include answering these questions (but not limited to):

    • Who am I angry at and why am I angry at them?

    • Digging deeper, what about this situation is making me angry?

    • Is this problem fixable or not?

    • How do I want this problem resolved and is that a reasonable expectation?

    • What do I want different for my life and relationships?

R: Repair and Resolve

  • After careful and thoughtful reflection of the problem, we approach the parties involved with the problem and focus our interaction on repairing the relationship and finding a resolution to the problem. This process requires us to be calm, curious, and open to understanding.

  • This step may include:

    • Identifying how the problem made us feel and how it impacts us

      • If we feel comfortable, we may even share how our past experiences may have impacted our perception of the problem

    • Acknowledging mistakes that have been made

  • Taking responsibility and apologizing for our actions and reactions

  • Identifying what we would like to happen next and in the future

F: Focus on the Future

  • The repair and resolve process should help us reflect and identify some personal values and beliefs that are important for our life.

  • With a clearer understanding of what one wants for their life, our future actions and decisions should be chosen based on one’s personal beliefs and values.

  • When we hit a crossroads in our life, we act based on the goals what we want for our life.

Although conflicts and disagreements do sometimes cause fractures in, and may even lead to the loss of, relationships, it is important for everyone’s personal journey to not avoid identifying problems and difficulties in our relationships. Resolutions to these problems can bring about greater contentment for our lives and relationships. Learning to surf the bumpy waves enhances our ability to ride the waves of life.

If you want assistance with applying this acronym to specific difficulties in your life and you are interested to explore further in therapy, feel free to reach out to Chris Lam at Ride the Waves Counselling Service: 647-456-7751 or

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