Strategies for Conflict Resolution

No matter how hard you try, sometimes conflict just happens. You may bring up a topic at the wrong moment or you may be unaware you are being insensitive. Sometimes, the other person is just being irrational, and the conflict may have more to do with something going on with her than with anything you said or did. No matter where the fault lies, resolving the conflict is almost always in your best interest.

 Communication Tip defines conflict resolution as “a wide range of methods of addressing, alleviating, and eliminating sources of conflict by use of nonviolent methods as opposed to armed struggle.” While your conflicts with others typically aren’t at such a high level, the process of conflict resolution generally consists of the same steps at any level of conflict—negotiation, mediation, diplomacy, and creative peacebuilding.

Resolving conflict does not start with going to the other person but with an honest look at your own behavior. Review your conversation and your history with this person to see if there is anything you can think of that they could interpret as insensitive. You may not hold the same values or sensitivities, but this part is not about you. It is about the other person’s perception. If your partner is predisposed to feel certain topics are controversial or off-limits, then, in her view, you really were insensitive. You have to accept that, to her, her view is valid.

How to Begin Resolving a Conflict

Showing empathy is the most effective way to soothe angry people like Kerri. Also, the person will want to vent and tell you her concerns, so be sure to let her talk as much as she needs to in order to put this event behind you. Your only job is to empathize while she talks.

Second, scour your memory (you can use the following writing exercise to do so) to face whatever role you might have played in the conflict. There really are two sides to an issue. Even if you did nothing overtly wrong, what could you have done differently that could perhaps have helped you avoid the conflict?

Writing Exercise

One of the most effective ways to understand the other person’s perspective is to write her a letter from her point of view. Pretend you are the person you’re having the conflict with. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, so to speak. Now imagine that she has a close friend or cousin in another state and she is writing to that person. If she were to pour out her heart to someone she was very close to, what are some of the small things, big things, or even minor annoyances she might mention? Take the filter off and let your imagination run wild to think of how she might describe you and the incident that took place.

The following is a sample of a letter written from another person’s point of view about a neighborhood conflict:

Dear Jean,

I hope you’re doing well and that things have calmed down around your house. Personally, I have my hands full right now and a neighborhood situation is not helping my stress level. You wouldn’t believe this neighbor of mine named (Put your name here). It all started because (State first events or words). Then (State phrases or events that escalated the conflict).

Anyway, thanks for always being there and understanding. Warmly, (Sign with your communication partner’s name)

Writing this letter will not solve your problems, but it will help you get closer to seeing the other person’s viewpoint. You will be better able to empathize if you put yourself in her shoes through this exercise. You may even recall a few facts that you had forgotten that may be part of the reason your partner is in conflict with you.

Writing this letter will not solve your problems, but it will help you get closer to seeing the other person’s viewpoint. You will be better able to empathize if you put yourself in her shoes through this exercise. You may even recall a few facts that you had forgotten that may be part of the reason your partner is in conflict with you.

Now write a second letter to someone who always supports you and is a good listener. This letter is your chance to pour out your heart, frustrations, and observations about the other person’s words and actions. Get it all down on paper. Why? Because you need to be honest about any hidden resentments you have or any judgmental attitudes you have toward the other person. If resolving conflict is truly your goal, you may need to face how small some of these irritations are. Are they worth the conflict?

Review the letter and ask yourself, “Can I let these things go? Is there anything in here we have to address or can I live with it?”

Ask yourself if there are areas of the letter that have a negative or critical tone. Plan ahead not to sound negative in your upcoming conversation. Plan, instead, to use some supportive statements that will offset any undertones of negativity.

Put the faults of the other person in context. Everyone has faults, and everyone needs some latitude and leniency. Can you extend graciousness to this person? Think of a time someone did not bust you for a mistake you made. Think of the flood of relief you felt when they simply let it go. Is this your chance to be the bigger person?

After you have learned more about yourself by studying this letter, shred it! You don’t need to revisit and rehash this negative information. Learn from it and go on to the conversation you need to have with the other person.

Conflict Resolution Model

Now that you’ve looked at your conversation partner’s perspective as well as your own, it’s time to confront the issue. Fist, follow the steps for presenting disappointing news while avoiding conflict described earlier. Bring the topic up in a neutral way, do not antagonize by taking a strong position at first, allow your partner to do most of the talking while you empathize, and define the options or situation in an unemotional and factual way. Be sure you stress the positive relationship you have had in the past. Talk about the parts of the situation that the two of you are in agreement about.

Next, instead of breaking the news, address the conflict. Your partner already knows the bad news or whatever started the problem. Check in with your partner after you’ve defined the problem and say, “I understand that when I said X it was hurtful (disappointing, surprising, cause for concern). What I want from this conversation is to make things right and to resolve any problems between us. I hope you feel the same.”

If your partner agrees to want to work things out, you are already successful. At this point, you can offer an apology and suggest anything concrete you can do in the future to help you avoid this problem. If your partner is not ready to put differences behind you, you might try saying, “I value our friendship so much and want to do what you think is right. How can I make things better?”

 If your partner makes demands or says something you cannot agree to, try one of these responses:

“I do agree that A (say what you can do first), although I didn’t arrive at the same conclusion about B (state the issue).”

 “I do agree that A (state the issue) and I am very sorry, but I want you to know that B (say what you can do).”

“I can A (say what you can do first), although B (state request) may be difficult.”

For instance, using the Kerri example from earlier, you could say, “I do agree that by changing the plans for our vacation has been a hardship for you and I am very sorry, but I want you to know that it was not intentional or meant to make you feel that I don’t value your time.”

Communication Tip

When breaking bad news, it’s usually best to start with the good news and state the bad news second. The only message you should ever deliver is good news–good news or good news–bad news. Never deliver bad news–bad news message. Find one good thing to tell your listener, even if it’s just that you’re going to help them deal with the bad news in some way.

When you feel you have resolved things as much as you can reasonably expect for one conversation, express relief for the points of resolution and gratitude for your partner’s willingness to work things out with you. If there is any follow-up you can offer, end the conversation by telling your partner what you plan to do and when.

Naturally, you will tailor all of these conversations to your unique situation. No formula can guarantee a successful resolution with all people, but this approach usually works. Many people find that when two friends go through a bad period and work through it successfully, they become much closer.

Conflict is actually healthy and productive in a relationship. You should desire to have people in your life who see things differently from you; their different perspective will give you added insight and keep things interesting. Try to stay objective about your differences and remember that it is the issue you don’t like and not the person.

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