Conflict is a common part of human life. In fact, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably experienced it firsthand yourself. It doesn’t matter whether the setting was the workplace or your personal life: conflict is something that each and every single one of us has experienced in the past, and will probably experience again in the future.
That makes it all the more necessary for us to learn how, exactly, can a person handle conflict in the most effective manner possible. And that’s exactly what we’re here to help you with.
Handling a conflict doesn’t have to be a daunting task. One of the key ways to handle conflict is through effective communication. In fact, communication–or rather, ineffective communication–itself is at the root of most conflicts, and somewhat paradoxically, communication–more specifically, effective communication–is the best strategy to resolve conflict.
There are many communication strategies that you can use to resolve conflicts. These include active listening, writing about the conflict, asking questions, cultivating empathy and compassion, recognizing differences, using open body language, and emphasizing your relationship with the person.
We’ve expanded on them below.
Why Is Communication Important In Conflict Resolution?
Conflict occurs when there is a clash between individuals due to different thoughts, interests, requirements, etc. In order to avoid conflicts or to resolve them, one needs to learn how to adjust with other people up to a certain extent.
This is when communication comes in. It has been observed time and again that most conflicts are a result of ineffective communication. In fact, ineffective communication is the leading cause of most conflicts and misunderstandings.
On the other hand, effective as well as regular communication allows people to better understand each other’s thoughts, opinions and requirements. It makes it easier to understand what the other people needs and how they see a particular situation, so that the people involved can work together better in order to arrive at a solution.
5 Common Strategies For Resolving Conflicts
|1.||Accommodating||Involves ‘giving in’ by one party||It is the easiest way to find a solution.||It may make the accommodating person experience negative emotions, which can cause problems for the relationship in the long run.|
|2.||Avoiding||Avoidance of the issue||It is effective if you’re not meeting the person again.||However, it may cause the problem to fester/worsen over time.|
|3.||Compromising||Finding common ground||Provides a solution that is beneficial to all parties.||Finding a solution to a more serious problem can take a longer time.|
|4.||Collaboration||Working together to achieve a goal||Allows you to communicate better with the person & find a lasting solution.||Differences in personalities can make it difficult to actually collaborate & communicate towards an effective solution.|
|5.||Competition||Believing that your goals are incompatible||Allows you to achieve your goal without losing out on anything.||Generally results in one person being dissatisfied, which can cause a rift in the relationship.|
This is a common method for resolving conflicts. It involves one party accomodating the other one by giving them exactly what they’d asked for.
Accommodating can be an effective strategy if your argument is not that strong, or if over the course of your conflict resolution process you feel that the other person has a valid point.
For Example: During an argument about who should cook dinner that night, you may accommodate by relenting and saying that you will do so tonight because your spouse is very tired.
This is another common reaction to conflict and one that most people resort to. Unlike the other strategies mentioned, this is probably the least effective one.
By avoiding conflict, not only do you allow it to fester, but it can also get further exacerbated, making it more difficult to resolve.
For Example: You might decide to avoid discussing a heated argument you had with your partner the day before and pretend that things are going normally.
Compromise is another commonly used strategy to arrive at a resolution. Like avoidance, it’s a strategy that is most commonly used by people in a conflict and is one of the most effective ones.
During compromise, both parties give up some of their demands or conditions and arrive at a mutual solution to their problem. It can also be seen as a win-win situation.
For Example: During an argument between a mother and a daughter about what is the ideal time for a curfew, the mother and daughter might negotiate to come to a time that works for both of them i.e something that is not too late for the mother, but which also allows the daughter to enjoy her night out.
Collaboration is similar to compromise and can be seen as a part of it as well.
In collaboration, all the parties involved sit down together with the intention of finding a commonly beneficial solution to the problem. They work or collaborate together in order to arrive at a common solution.
For Example: Two constantly fighting siblings might sit down to discuss exactly what is the root cause of most of their fights.
Competition, like avoidance, is one of the less effective ways in which people approach conflicts.
In competition, people believe that their conflict can only be resolved if the other person doesn’t achieve their goals. Thus, both parties compete with each other with the intention of ‘winning’ the argument.
This can also be called a win-lose situation.
Competition is another commonly used method for resolving conflicts.
For Example: Two siblings might compete with each other to see who can win over the hottest girl in school (yikes!).
Effective Communication Strategies To Resolve Conflicts
1. Active Listening
Active listening & simple listening are two completely different things. While listening can simply be a biological process (i.e you hear the words without actually comprehending them), active listening not only involves paying conscious attention to the information being provided but also interpret & think of responses to it.
Active listening is imperative to the conflict resolution phase. That’s because it’s only when you pay active attention to the other person that you will be able to truly understand their problem & come to a common solution to your issue.
So, for example, instead of simply zoning out the next time your partner is complaining to you about something, actually listen to them. You’ll be surprised at how many arguments you can avoid by simply listening to your partner in advance.
2. Writing About The Conflict
People think that speaking is the only way people communicate. However, a medium that’s just as important to the communication process is writing.
By writing down about the conflict, you can delve more deeper into your own thoughts, and also gain a clearer understanding of your feelings. Writing also allows you to sort through your emotions, and may even provide insights that you weren’t aware you had.
You can then share this with the other person–and vise versa–so that both of you can glean a clearer understanding of what the other person is saying.
So, for example, the next time you’re having a particularly bad conflict with someone close to you, sit down and write down your feelings about the entire fiasco. You can choose to share it with the person in question–or simply keep it for yourself.
3. Role Playing
This might sound confusing or eccentric, but it’s actually a great and unique way of dealing with conflict, especially if it’s happening with someone you’re close with.
By role-playing as the other person, you can glean a better understanding of the other person’s situation and state of mind. This will also allow you to see your own point of view from a different perspective & see faults in your argument that you might not otherwise.
For example, if you and your child are in a deadlock about the solution to a conflict, sit down with them and ask them to role-play as the parent while you take on the role of the child.
4. Being Inquisitive
Another strategy to involve in your problem solving would be asking questions. Often, people tend to make presumptions about the other person without actually providing them the opportunity to explain why they feel or are behaving in a certain way.
You can avoid this by actively asking the other person questions and actually acknowledging and working on their answers using the active listening strategy mentioned above.
So, for example, if your partner claims that they’re angry at you, don’t just launch into the offensive. Instead, ask them: Why are you angry with me? Did I do something I shouldn’t have?
5. Cultivating Compassion & Empathy
Another way to resolve conflict is by diving inwards onto yourself. Compassion & empathy for the other person is key to a successful relationship.
Try to place yourself in the other person’s shoes, and to see the world through their eyes. Ask yourself: why are they behaving as they are? What would I do if I were in their shoes?
This is similar to the role-playing technique mentioned above.
6. Using ‘I’ Statements
The choice of words that you use makes a key difference in how the other person perceives you. Often, people tend to use more ‘you’ statements than ‘I’ statements.
For example, people are more likely to say You make me feel uncomfortable rather than I felt uncomfortable with your actions.
While this might seem like a trivial thing, however, what this does is transfer the responsibility for a particular action or feeling that you feel onto the other person rather than taking it on yourself.
So, next time you sit down to resolve a problem, try to use more ‘I’ statements rather than the other way around.
7. Recognising & Respecting Differences
Often, people tend to take arguments or conflicts as simply win-win situations. However, this isn’t necessarily true. Often, the core cause of a particular conflict is people refusing to acknowledge each other’s differences, and pushing their own views on the other person.
So, for example, in an argument between a parent and child about whether it’s alright to go out at a particular time at night or whether it’s okay to wear a certain outfit, both parties tend to often vehemently impose their own views on the other person.
A better strategy would be to recognize that different people have different opinions about certain things and to find a common ground that works for both.
8. Acknowledging, And Not Avoiding The Problem
Nobody likes conflict. What this means is that people actively avoid getting into it whenever possible. While this may work in the short term, it definitely causes problems in the long term.
That’s because when you avoid a problem for too long, it tends to fester and grow in its intensity. What may actually start off as a relatively small issue might actually grow into something even bigger and much more difficult to surmount.
That’s why it’s important to acknowledge & resolve conflicts as and when they arrive, instead of simply avoiding them.
So, for example, if you feel like there’s a problem that’s been brewing between you and your co-worker for quite some time, sit down with them and talk it out instead of making presumptions.
9. Confronting The Situation, Not The Person
Many people tend to view a disagreement as directly the responsibility of the other person. They tend to focus their entire blame game on the other person.
This works against instead of towards finding a common ground or solution. It’s important to not hyper-focus on the person in question.
That is, don’t make direct attacks on the person. Rather, focus on the argument or conflict at hand.
Instead, focus on the problem at hand, and work towards finding a common ground to solve it. Besides, effective communication is a great way of reducing stress. For more information, check out our article on How Effective Communication Can Reduce Stress.
10. Using Open Body Language
Your words aren’t the only thing that makes up communication. Communication also involves your body language, facial expressions, hand gestures…and so on.
Your body language plays a key role in how the other person perceives you. If you enter an argument with rigid body language–tense shoulders or back, crossed arms, etc–then they’re more likely to get defensive and have a negative view about the entire thing.
So, use open and inviting body language. Relax your back and arms. Sit as you would if you were having a normal conversation, and pay attention to your body language throughout the resolution.
For more information on the importance of body language, check out our article on Body Language & Its Contribution To The Process Of Communication.
11. Emphasizing The Value Of Your Relationship
Often, relationships tend to fall apart due to conflicts. To avoid this, you need to communicate clearly with the other person that you value your relationship with them, and that just because you’re in a disagreement, it doesn’t mean that the relationship doesn’t matter to you.
Let it be known, through your words and gestures, that your relationship with them is much, much bigger than the problem at hand.
So, for example, if you feel like the focus of your argument has shifted from the problem at hand to direct attacks on each other, take a pause.
Call a time-out, or simply let the other person know that you value them and your relationship with them by saying something like I want us to survive this because this relationship means the world to me.
Tips To Solve Conflict In The Workplace
1. Getting A Mediator
Often, especially when a conflict has been festering for a long time, people tend to get too emotionally involved with it. This makes it less likely that they will act with reason, and more likely that they will act erratically.
One way of going around this is by having a mediator between the parties involved. This can be a manager or another senior employee or even a colleague. This will allow for the parties to stay on track, and for the resolution to progress in a logical manner. It will also allow you to have a third-person perspective about your problem.
2. Address It Privately
Whether the conflict happened in private or public, it’s a good idea to resolve it in private.
You don’t want to showcase the conflict like a drama in front of the entire office. Instead, find a secluded spot and resolve it in private. This allows for all the parties involved to address their issue in a safe space and to be more open to sharing their issues freely.
3. Find A Neutral Location
While resolving a conflict, it’s important to have your talk at a neutral location. This will make it more likely that all the parties involved will have a neutral, calm state of mind & will be able to find a common ground without being overwhelmed with emotions.
So, for example, you can resolve the conflict in a closed-off office, or even invite the parties involved out for a quick coffee in a place where they haven’t been before.
4. Don’t Take Sides
Another thing that’s a must–especially if you’re the mediator–is to not pick sides during the conflict or to show that you’re favoring any particular side.
This can make things even more complicated by further exacerbate the conflict. So, it’s important to maintain a neutral stand and to make sure that your words and body language convey it.
5. Investiagte The Situation
If the conflict or issue is something big, has gone on for too long, or involves multiple parties, then you might have to investigate deeper in order to find the core issue at hand, and to come to a satisfactory solution for all parties involved.
Investigating the situation can involve a lot of things, ranging from talking privately to many people, getting to know their emotions towards it, speaking directly to witnesses or parties involved…
The end goal of your investigation should be to find a solution that appeases the majority of people. You cannot make everyone happy, and that’s alright.
What matters is finding a fair solution that works for most.
6. Monitoring & Following Up On The Conflict
Just because you’ve found a solution to a problem doesn’t mean it’s resolved and will never rise up again in the future. Often, once people have identified a solution, they think that’s it and move on.
However, in many scenarios that is not the case. Particularly if a problem had been festering for too long, it’s likely that you will continue to monitor it for some time.
It’s important to continue to communicate with the other person regularly & to keep checking in to make sure that no new problems are popping up.
This can be done through face-to-face meetings, emails, messages, or even a quick call.
For more information on the importance of communication in the workplace, check out our article on 10 Reasons Why Effective Communication Is Essential In The Workplace.
To sum up, communication is one of the best ways to resolve conflict. There are many communication strategies that you can use to resolve conflicts. These include active listening, writing about the conflict, asking questions, cultivating empathy and compassion, recognizing differences, using open body language, and emphasizing your relationship with the person.