Sharpen your Conflict Resolution Skills
Company owner Mark dealt with conflict every day. If it wasn’t with vendors and clients, it was with his ex-wife or teenage son. Things started to change when Mark began using conflict resolution skills. “I used to add fuel to the fire by getting stuck in my position. Now I take a step back, breathe deep and listen. The more I do that, the easier it is to solve problems.”
Mark learned that conflicts don’t need to be volatile and negative. Conflicts can actually lead to an increase in understanding and creative thinking. It’s how we deal with conflict that determines the outcome.
In this era of school and work place shootings, road 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.
Step 1: Take time to cool off.
Conflicts can’t be solved in the face of hot emotions. Take a step back, bring some emotional distance before continuing. When you take time to breathe and regain your focus you create opportunities to choose your response rather than just reacting. If you try to skip this step, your words are often too emotionally loaded.
Step 2: Each person states the problem using “I messages.”
“I messages” are a tool that expresses how we feel without attacking or blaming. By starting from “I,” we take responsibility for the way we perceive the problem.
This is in sharp contrast to “you messages,” which put others on the defensive and close doors to communication. A statement like, “you’ve left the kitchen a mess again! Can’t you ever clean up after yourself?” will escalate the conflict. An “I message” such as, “I’m annoyed because I thought we agreed to clean up the kitchen after using it. What happened?” comes across much differently.
When making “I” statements, it’s important to avoid put downs, guilt-trips, sarcasm and negative body language. We need to be non-combative and willing to compromise. A key in conflict resolution is, “it’s us against the problem, not us against each other.” “I” messages enable us to convey this.
Step 3: Each person restates what they heard the other person say.
Reflective listening demonstrates that we care enough to hear the other person out, rather than just focusing on ourselves. It actually fosters empathy.
Mark describes how he used reflective listening when he interrupted a shouting match between his ex-wife and teenage son.
“No sooner had I walked in the door to pick up Randy then he and his mother erupted into a battle. In the past I might have shouted for them to stop, only to be drawn into the fray. Instead I took a deep breath, gathered my thoughts and chose my words carefully. I calmly asked them each if they could tell me what happened. Then I reflected back what they said. My willingness to listen helped them listen too. They actually came to a compromise, something I’d never before thought possible.“
Step 4: Take responsibility.
In the majority of conflicts, both parties have some degree of responsibility. However, most of us tend to 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 conflict 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 each other.
A handshake, hug or kind word gives you closure to the resolution of conflicts. Forgiveness is the highest form of closure. When you forgive somebody, you’re spared the dismal corrosion of bitterness and wounded pride. For both parties, forgiveness means the freedom again to be at peace inside their own skins and to be glad in each other’s presence. Saying thank you or acknowledging the persons efforts at the end of a conflict sends a message of conciliation and gratitude. This preserves our relationships and strengthens our connections while working through problems.
- Tell the truth
- Treat each other with respect
- Attack the problem, not the person
- Wait your turn to speak. No interrupting
- Be willing to compromise