Conflict between people is a fact of life and its not
necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a relationship with frequent conflict
may be healthier than one with no observable conflict. Conflicts occur
at all levels of interaction at work, among friends, within families
and between relationship partners. When conflict occurs, the relationship
may be weakened or strengthened. Thus, conflict is a critical event
in the course of a relationship. Conflict can cause resentment, hostility
and perhaps the ending of the relationship. If it is handled well, however,
conflict can be productive leading to deeper understanding, mutual
respect and closeness. Whether a relationship is healthy or unhealthy
depends not so much on the number of conflicts between participants,
but on how the conflicts are resolved.
Sometimes people shy away from conflict, and the reasons for this are
numerous. They may, for example, feel that their underlying anger may
go out of control if they open the door to conflict. Thus, they may
see conflict as an all-or-nothing situation (either they avoid it altogether
or they end up in an all-out combative mode, regardless of the real
severity of the conflict). Or they may find it difficult to face conflict
because they feel inadequate in general or in the particular relationship.
They may have difficulty in positively asserting their views and feelings.
Children who grow up surrounded by destructive conflict may, as adults,
determine never to participate in discord. In this situation, the person
may never have learned that there are effective, adaptive ways to communicate
in the face of conflict.
People adopt a number of different styles in facing conflict. First,
it is very common to see a person avoid or deny
the existence of conflict. Unfortunately, in this case, the conflict
often lingers in the background during interaction between the participants
and creates the potential for further tension and even more conflict.
A second response style is that of one person getting mad
and blaming the other person. This occurs when a person
mistakenly equates conflict with anger. This stance does nothing to
resolve the conflict and in fact only serves to increase the degree
of friction between the two participants by amplifying defensiveness.
A third way which some people use to resolve conflict is by using power
and influence to win at the others expense. They
welcome conflict because it allows their competitive impulses to emerge,
but they fail to understand that the conflict is not really resolved
since the loser will continue to harbor resentment. Similarly,
some people appear to compromise in resolving the conflict, but they
subtly manipulate the other person in the process, and
this, again, perpetuates the conflict between the two parties and compromises
the trust between them. There are better ways to handle interpersonal
Healthy Approaches to Conflict Resolution
Conflicts run all the way from minor, unimportant differences to disputes
which can threaten the existence of a relationship. Conflicts with a
loved one or a long-term friend are, of course, different from negotiating
with someone who does not care about your needs, like a stranger or
a salesperson. However, there is an underlying principle that underscores
all successful conflict resolution. That is, both parties must view
their conflict as a problem to be solved mutually so that
both parties have the feeling of winning or at least finding
a solution which is acceptable to both. Each person must participate
actively in the resolution and make an effort and commitment to find
answers which are as fair as possible to both. This is an easy principle
to understand, but it is often difficult to put into practice.
We may get so caught up with our own immediate interests that we damage
our relationships. If we disregard or minimize the position of the other
person, if fear and power are used to win, or if we always have to get
our own way, the other person will feel hurt and the relationship may
be wounded. Similarly, if we always surrender just to avoid conflict,
we give the message to the other person that it is acceptable to act
self-serving at our expense and insensitive to our needs. Our feeling
of self-worth suffers, resentment festers, and we feel poisoned in the
relationship. Instead, it is healthier if both parties can remain open,
honest, assertive and respectful of the other position. Mutual trust
and respect, as well as a positive, constructive attitude, are fundamental
necessities in relationships that matter.
Most people have no interest in creating conflict with others. Most
of us know enough about human behavior to distinguish between healthy
communication and the words or actions that contribute to rocky relationships.
It is in our interest to maintain relations which are smooth, flexible,
and mutually enhancing. The problem occurs when we fail to use cooperative
approaches consistently in our dealing with others. We seldom create
conflict intentionally. We do it because we may not be aware of how
our own behavior contributes to interpersonal problems. Sometimes we
forget, or we are frustrated and annoyed, and sometimes we just have
a bad day. At times we feel so exasperated that we focus on our own
needs at the expense of others. And then we find ourselves in
To prevent conflict from happening in the first place, it is important
to identify the ways in which we contribute to the disagreement. One
way of doing this is to identify a specific, recent conflicted situation,
recall what you said, and then think specifically about how you could
have used more effective language. Think about ways in which your communication
could have set a more trustful tone or reduced defensiveness. Then,
once you have identified your part in the conflict, such as blaming,
practice working on that particular behavior for a day or a week. At
the end of the time period, evaluate your progress. Did you succeed?
In what situations did you not succeed? (While it may be the other person
who created the conflict, you are the other half of the interaction
and it is your own response that you have control over and can change.)
Using Effective Communication Techniques to Reduce Conflict
Once you find yourself in a conflicted situation with someone else,
it is important to reduce the emotional charge from the situation so
that you and the other person can deal with your differences on a rational
level in resolving the conflict.
If you're interested in learning more about this subject in order to learn how to better deal with people, consider Creighton University online. You can learn so much about conflict matters and the best way to deal with them. These techniques below will help.
The Defusing Technique: The other person might be angry
and may come to the situation armed with a number of arguments describing
how you are to blame for his or her unhappiness. Your goal is to address
the others anger and you do this by simply agreeing
with the person. When you find some truth in the other point
of view, it is difficult for the other person to maintain anger. For
example, I know that I said I would call you last night. You are
absolutely right. I wish I could be more responsible sometimes.
The accusation might be completely unreasonable from your viewpoint,
but there is always some truth in what the other person says. At the
very least, we need to acknowledge that individuals have different ways
of seeing things. This does not mean that we have to compromise our
own basic principles. We simply validate the others stance so
that we can move on to a healthier resolution of the conflict. This
may be hard to do in a volatile situation, but a sign of individual
strength and integrity is the ability to postpone our immediate reactions
in order to achieve positive goals. Sometimes we have to lose
in order, ultimately, to win.
Empathy: Try to put yourself into the shoes of the other
person. See the world through their eyes. Empathy is an important listening
technique which gives the other feedback that he or she is being heard.
There are two forms of empathy. Thought Empathy gives
the message that you understand what the other is trying to say. You
can do this in conversation by paraphrasing the words of the other person.
For example, I understand you to say that your trust in me has
been broken. Feeling Empathy is your acknowledgment
of how the other person probably feels. It is important never to attribute
emotions which may not exist for the other person (such as, Youre
confused with all your emotional upheaval right now), but rather
to indicate your perception of how the person must be feeling. For example,
I guess you probably feel pretty mad at me right now.
Exploration: Ask gentle, probing questions about what
the other person is thinking and feeling. Encourage the other to talk
fully about what is on his or her mind. For example, Are there
any other thoughts that you need to share with me?
Using I Statements: Take responsibility for
your own thoughts rather than attributing motives to the other person.
This decreases the chance that the other person will become defensive.
For example, I feel pretty upset that this thing has come between
us. This statement is much more effective than saying, You
have made me feel very upset.
Stroking: Find positive things to say about the other
person, even if the other is angry with you. Show a respectful attitude.
For example, I genuinely respect you for having the courage to
bring this problem to me. I admire your strength and your caring attitude.
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A Rational Way of Resolving Conflicts
Here is a model that may help in resolving interpersonal conflicts.
Identify the Problem. Have a discussion to understand
both sides of the problem. The goal at this initial stage is to say
what you want and to listen to what the other person wants. Define the
things that you both agree on, as well as the ideas that have caused
the disagreement. It is important to listen actively to what the other
is saying, use I statements and avoid blame.
Come Up With Several Possible Solutions. This is the
brainstorming phase. Drawing on the points that you both agree on and
your shared goals, generate a list of as many ideas as you can for solving
the problem, regardless of how feasible they might be. Aim toward quantity
of ideas rather than quality during this phase, and let creativity be
Evaluate These Alternative Solutions. Now go through
the list of alternative solutions to the problem, one by one. Consider
the pros and cons of the remaining solutions until the list is narrowed
down to one or two of the best ways of handling the problem. It is important
for each person to be honest in this phase. The solutions might not
be ideal for either person and may involve compromise.
Decide on the Best Solution. Select the solution that
seems mutually acceptable, even if it is not perfect for either party.
As long as it seems fair and there is a mutual commitment to work with
the decision, the conflict has a chance for resolution.
Implement the Solution. It is important to agree on the
details of what each party must do, who is responsible for implementing
various parts of the agreement, and what to do in case the agreement
starts to break down.
Continue to Evaluate the Solution. Conflict resolutions
should be seen as works in progress. Make it a point to ask the other
person from time to time how things are going. Something unexpected
might have come up or some aspect of the problem may have been overlooked.
Your decisions should be seen as open to revision, as long as the revisions
are agreed upon mutually.
Wishing you the best as you practice new skills for conflict and communication.
Copyright Simmonds Publications