Conflicts can arise for anyone and everyone. There is no one person completely void of any conflict in life. Our lives are with interactions with different people. Some by choice and others not. Think about the amount of people you potentially come in contact with on a daily basis. From the drivers on your morning commute to work, to your coworkers whom you spend a great deal of time with during the week, fellow shoppers at the market, and, of course, the friends and family you interact regularly with. Everyone is different in a lot of ways, including their upbringing, culture, religious and political beliefs, personalities, and life experiences. All of these differences and all of the moving parts that come in and out of our daily lives will inevitably result in conflict at some point. This is why it is critical that we each have mindful conflict resolution strategies at our disposal.
Conflict is not fun and can be downright stressful at times. However, it doesn’t need to be something you fear or stress about if you can properly manage conflict. There are multiple parties involved in order for conflict to happen and if you are experiencing conflict, there are definitely things you can do to help resolve the conflict.
Below are some helpful steps towards resolving conflicts that may arise with others.
Step #1: Identify the Conflict
The first among conflict resolution strategies, is to clearly identify when there is conflict and what is causing the conflict. Recognizing that there’s conflict is the first step towards resolving it, but often we get so caught up in our reactions and being stuck amidst the chaos that can occur in conflict that we cannot rationally take a step back and realize there’s a conflict that needs resolving.
Step #2: Stabilize Your Emotions
Conflict can rarely be successfully resolved when one or both parties are still extremely emotional. It is important to get some stabilization of your emotions before moving forward to try and find a resolution. Once you have calmed down from the initial emotion that comes with conflict, you can proceed with mature, professional and rational behavior towards addressing the conflict.
Step #3: Set Up a Direct Conversation with the Involved Party
Confrontation is never fun. In fact, many people avoid it because it’s uncomfortable. If at all possible, it’s best to set up face-to-face meeting directly with the person you’re having a conflict with. In the day and age of smart phones and the internet, far too many people try to manage relationships and conflicts through text and e-mail. It is very different to have a face-to-face conversation with someone that you’re in conflict with than it is to simply send an e-mail. Written communication comes with the ability to misunderstand the tone and intention of someone’s words. You often put your own interpretation on what they meant or had to say. A face-to-face meeting with someone will also involve facial expressions, body language, and immediate signs and signals of reactions and responses. If you cannot have a face-to-face meeting, at the bare minimum, at least have a conversation by phone.
Whatever you do, never try to triangulate the situation. This is when you speak to just about everyone else, but the involved party. People often do this to feel validated or get people to side with them. What often happens is that it creates even further conflict down the road when you have now altered the opinions others have about the other party (or even about you).
Step #4: Find a Common Goal
It is helpful to find a common goal for both parties. For example, if you’re having a conflict with your coworker, then the common goal may be that both parties can get along and work better as a team for the betterment of office morale and also the success of the company. If you’re having a conflict with a friend or romantic partner, then perhaps the common goal is that you both love one another and want to remain friends (or stay together). Once you are able to establish the common goal, it is then helpful to know how to proceed with addressing the conflict. It is helpful to revisit this common goal in this conversation if it appears that parties are straying from accomplishing this common goal.
Step #5: Be an Active Listener
There is a difference between listening to another person in a conversation and being an active listener. Active listening takes some practice, but it typically involves repeating back to the other person what you just heard them say. It’s a great way to make sure that you’re not just hearing what they said, but that you’re actually listening and understanding what it is that they wish to convey to you. It is helpful to not interrupt the other person and give them time to express what they’re feeling and feel that they are being heard by you. Everybody wants to be heard and just as you would like the other party to do so for you, it is important that you give them an equal opportunity to do the same.
Step #6: Take Ownership
There’s a belief that in conflict there are 3 sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth. All too often in conflicts, you will find that one party believes that they’re 100% in the right and the other party is completely at fault. The truth of it is that in all conflicts, there are usually things that both parties are guilty of doing that contribute towards the conflict. If you are not sure what you may have done to partake in a particular conflict, simply ask the other person, “Is there something that I have said or done to hurt you?” or “Is there something that I have said or done that you feel could have been done differently?” More often than not, they will identify something that you have said or done that could have been handled differently. Regardless of the intentions of your words or actions, really listen to what the other party has to say about how it made them feel and then take ownership in that. Sometimes a simple apology for making them feel a certain way can go a long way towards resolving the conflict.
Step #7: Avoid “You” Statements
Try to avoid making accusatory statements. Even with the best intentions, whenever you use statements using the word “you”, it can make the other party feel attacked and they can become defensive. If you stick with statements about yourself using the words “I” or “me”, you will help avoid unnecessary added conflict. It’s hard to argue with someone that is talking about how something made them feel or what they thought.
Step #8: Don’t Forget About the Lesson
With any number of conflict resolution strategies, there is always an opportunity to take away a lesson from it. Even if the conflict is never truly resolved and both parties decide to go their own ways, there’s plenty of lessons that can be taken away. For example, you may decide what standards you wish to have for the relationships that you keep in your life. You might realize that, in the future, you will handle things differently. There is always a lesson that can be learned, so just be open to figuring out what lesson can be taken away from any of the conflicts may arise in your life.
When you know how to properly manage conflict, conflict doesn’t need to be something that you fear or that you stress out about. In fact, when conflict resolution strategies are implemented, they can be used to create greater intimacy and growth in relationships, as well as self-development.
In the words of American psychologist, Kenneth Kaye, “Conflict is neither good, nor bad. Properly managed, it is absolutely vital.”
If you would like more insight into (what many times feels like) the “art” of conflict resolution, book an appointment with Caree Brown L.C.S.W. Psycotherapy. She can help you work through and find the root of the problem then offer ways to tackle the issue one step at a time.