Conflict resolution is undoubtedly one of the most important life skills we need. It’s inevitable that we’ll experience conflict with others at work and with our partners, family and friends.
We all have different coping methods to deal with conflict, but at the extremes it can range from being aggressive and overpowering to avoiding at all costs and perhaps even giving in to ‘keep the peace.’
The way you manage conflict will be strongly influenced by how conflict was dealt with in your family and school environments.
Conflict resolution is generally not something we look forward to because much of the time conflict is handled in a way that causes disconnection, resentment and mistrust rather than closeness, understanding and compassion.
So how can we deal with conflict that brings connection and intimacy, respects vulnerability, builds rapport and trust, and supports open and honest communication and authentic expression of truth?
Your greatest assets for conflict resolution
Your greatest assets will be a genuine willingness and ability to:
- Actively listen to the other person (including observing body language – posture, tone of voice, facial expressions)
- Understand the other person’s point of view and empathise with their feelings
- Accept that the other person’s perception of the situation may be different to yours
- Express your truth – feelings and needs – with authenticity and sensitivity
- Clarify both party’s needs
- Brainstorm solutions that will fulfil both party’s needs
- Agree on an action plan to resolve the situation and also help prevent conflict in the future or better deal with conflict when it arises
7 Key steps for effective conflict resolution
Here are seven key steps and tips that may seem like common sense, but will help you manage conflict resolution more effectively.
Before talking to the person you’re experiencing conflict with, it’s important to first reflect on why you are so upset about the situation and how your behaviour may have contributed to the conflict as well.
You may realise that you actually need to apologise to the other person. Perhaps you’ve made assumptions that you have no way of knowing are true. Or perhaps your reaction is an over-reaction because it has triggered an unresolved issue from your past.
For example, the person’s behaviour is upsetting you so much because it reminds you of something one of your parents did or an old boss did that you felt powerless to address.
Generally, conflict arises because we are not able to stay in our power, be present and express our truth in the moment.
Reflect on where this might have been true for you.
2. Rehearse and visualise
I regularly recommend this technique to my clients because simply rehearsing and visualising having a difficult conversation can often shift the energy around the situation completely. Sometimes even to the point that you don’t feel a need to talk to the person.
- Find a quiet place, close your eyes and visualise having the challenging conversation until you are satisfied that you can express your truth while remaining calm and respectful.
- This exercise allows you to imagine what the other person is likely to say and you then have time to consider how you will respond.
- I recommend you practise your response a few times until it sounds and feels right and where you’re able to stay in your power.
If after going through this process, you still need to have the conversation with the person face-to-face, arrange a time to talk to them. The conversation may not go exactly as you rehearsed, but you will still likely have a better outcome than if you try to have the conversation unprepared.
3. Agree on a time and place
Trying to resolve conflict while you’re still in a reactive emotional state is unlikely to produce the outcomes you want, even though resolving conflict as soon as possible is desirable.
Both parties need time to process their emotions and self-reflect before coming together to discuss the conflict and its resolution.
It’s also important that both parties agree on a time and place that will encourage open and honest communication. Most people will likely become defensive if they feel they have been backed into a corner or are being made a fool of in front of their peers or friends.
Unless absolutely necessary (maybe a formal work process, or abusive situation), do not ‘bring others into the fight’, including relaying friend’s or family member’s opinions because they don’t have the full picture and the person is likely to feel ganged up on.
It is also important to agree on a set period of time for the discussion because it will help you to stay focused on the key issues and also provide a time out if you are getting bogged down and/or reactive again.
4. State the problem with ‘I’ messages
It’s so easy to point the finger and get into a ‘blame game’ during reactive conflict resolution. You might literally point your finger or start your sentences with ‘You.’
- In a conflict resolution situation, ‘I’ statements are less confrontational and feel less accusatory to the other person. You’re simply stating how you perceive and feel about the stressful aspects of the conflicted situation.
- ‘You’ statements are generally received as if you’re judging, shaming or blaming the other person and making them wrong.
‘I’ statements will more likely elicit an empathetic response whereas a ‘you’ statement will more likely be met with aggression or defensiveness.
Think about how you would receive these two statements for the same situation:
- “I’m feeling really ticked off right now because I’ve noticed the dog still hasn’t been fed.”
- “You make me so angry because I can never rely on you to do anything!”
How would you respond/react to each statement?
5. Focus on feelings and needs
If you have a genuine desire to resolve conflict in a constructive way that builds rapport and trust, I recommend you focus on how each person feels and perceives the issue.
Gaining an understanding of one another’s points of view through actively listening, empathising and respecting any differences of perspective will likely encourage open and honest communication.
Being in a more open and trusting space will then support a more authentic expression of your needs. Once the needs have been clarified, it will likely lead to a richer or more creative brainstorming of possible solutions.
6. Find solutions
When brainstorming solutions, make sure both parties have equal input and each idea is listened to and considered with an open mind and heart.
Ask clarifying questions as to why that solution would work best for the other person. Focus on how you can fulfil their underlying need.
7. Agree and commit
One of the most frustrating things when trying to resolve conflict is discussing the issues but never actually agreeing on a course of action to resolve the conflict and/or prevent it occurring in the future.
If you’ve spent the time understanding the other person’s perspective, clarified their needs, and brainstormed solutions that will fulfil both of your needs to an acceptable level, then the last step is agreeing on and committing to action.
These action steps also need to be quantified by observable outcomes. You’ll then know you’ve resolved the conflict when you achieve the outcomes.
Both parties committing to action steps demonstrates a motivation and desire to respect and support one another while also creating a better relationship in the process.
And one last tip. If you’d really like to develop conflict resolution skills in your relationships, I highly recommend you look at doing a Non Violent Communication course, especially as a couple.
You will learn a specific 4-step process – observations, feelings, needs, requests – developed to increase connection and intimacy.
Have you ever had a conflict that you’ve found difficult to resolve or are proud of the way you handled it?
What did you do and say?
Please share your thoughts and stories with us in the comments below!
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