Six Steps for Resolving Conflict
Conflict is normal and can even be healthy. Conflicts can actually lead to increased understanding and creative thinking. It’s how we deal with conflict that determines the outcome.
In this era of school and workplace shootings, road rage, airport rage, and even supermarket rage, knowing how to resolve conflicts can save a life. Beyond that, conflict resolution skills can improve relationships and deepen understanding. A system for resolving conflicts used by families and educators around the country is called The Win/Win Guidelines. Here’s how you can use the Win/Win Guidelines for any conflicts that may arise :
Step 1: Cool off.
Conflicts can’t be solved in the face of hot emotions. Take a step back, breathe deep, and gain some emotional distance before trying to talk things out.
Take a moment to brainstorm ten things that make you feel better when you’re hot under the collar. Consider some of the following: breathing deeply while making a calming statement, looking at the sky, clearing your desk or straightening up, splashing cold water on the face, writing in a journal, or taking a quick walk and then coming back to talk about the problem. Some people need physical release, while others need something quiet and cerebral. Determine what works for you, then use it next time you get angry. Then you’ll be ready to go on to the next step.
Step 2: Tell what’s bothering you using “I messages.”
"I messages” are a tool for expressing how we feel without attacking or blaming. By starting from “I” we take responsibility for the way we perceive the problem.
When making “I” statements it’s important to avoid put-downs, guilt-trips, sarcasm, or negative body language. We need to come from a place inside that’s non-combative and willing to compromise.
Step 3: Each person restates what they heard the other person say
The Art of Listening
• Listen in order to understand. Don't get ready for what you are going to say next.
• Pay attention to more than words. Notice tone of voice, facial expression, posture, etc.
• Try to put yourself in the speaker's shoes. Listen for feelings.
• Put aside your own opinions for the time being. You can't listen to your own thoughts and someone else at the same time.
• Be Patient. Listening is speedier than talking, so don't jump ahead of the speaker.
• Show your interest and empathy. This can encourage a speaker to say more, to dig deeper into an issue or problem.
• Don't interrupt. Ask questions only when clarification is needed.
• Clear up misunderstandings before you begin your own talk.
Reprinted from Teaching the Skills of Conflict Resolution by David Cowan,
Susanna Palomares and Dianne Schilling © 1992, with permission of Innerchoice Publishing
- Encourage the speaker with nonverbal cues, such as facial expressions and gestures.
- Check for understanding by asking questions such as "What did you mean . . . " or "Could you tell me more?" They also restate in their own words what the speaker said.
- "Reflect back" the speaker's feelings, saying things like "It sounds like you're really upset." Only when feelings are acknowledged will the speaker feel heard and understood.
Step 4: Take responsibility.
In the majority of conflicts, both parties have some degree of responsibility. However, most of us tend blame rather than looking at our own role in the problem. When we take responsibility we shift the conflict into an entirely different gear, one where resolution is possible.
Step 5: Brainstorm solutions and come up with one that satisfies both people.
Resolving conflicts is a creative act. There are many solutions to a single problem. The key is a willingness to seek compromises.
Step 6: Affirm, forgive, or thank.
A handshake, hug, or kind word gives closure to the resolution of conflicts. Forgiveness is the highest form of closure. Just saying thank you at the end of a conflict, or acknowledging the person for working things out sends a message of conciliation and gratitude. We preserve our relationships this way, strengthening our connections and working through problems that arise.
Think of your own life. Who are you in conflict with? Imagine applying this system to work things out. Think of the impact on all your relationships. Peace starts with each of us and sometimes we need to take the first step. As Gandhi once said, “We must be the change we wish to see in others.”
Conflict Management Strategies
There are different strategies we can choose from when conflict happens:
- Forcing - using formal authority or other power that you possess to satisfy your concerns without regard to the concerns of the person that you are in conflict with.
- Accommodating - allowing the other person to satisfy their concerns while neglecting your own.
- Avoiding - not paying attention to the conflict and not taking any action to resolve it.
- Compromising - attempting to resolve a conflict by identifying a solution that is partially satisfactory to both people, but completely satisfactory to neither.
- Collaborating - cooperating with the other party to understand their concerns and expressing your own concerns in an effort to find a mutually and completely satisfactory solution (win-win).
Matching Strategies to Situations
There are a few key variables to consider in deciding which conflict management strategies are likely to work. Time pressure is an important one--if there were never any time pressures, collaboration might always be the best approach to use. In addition to time pressures, some of the most important factors to consider are issue importance, relationship importance, and relative power:
- Issue importance - the extent to which important priorities, principles or values are involved in the conflict.
- Relationship importance - how important it is that you maintain a close, mutually supportive relationship with the other party.
- Relative power - how much power you have compared to how much power other party has.