Even in the best situations, conflicts in our
relationships, family life, or at work are
inevitable. Unfortunately, the unskilled and
negative ways we typically respond to conflict
often cause even more stress, erode our
relationships, create resentment within families
and lessen our personal or professional
effectiveness. However, most conflicts are
caused by misunderstandings that result from
poor communication skills or develop when
different personalities or behaviors collide. By
improving your communication and problem solving
skills, you can learn how to create effective
solutions out of stressful situations.
Improving your communication skills
Effective communication is vital to solving
conflicts and begins with genuinely attempting
to understand the other personís point of view
or feelings. Sometimes when weíre tired, angry
or frustrated, we donít hear what the other
person is trying to tell us. In order to really
listen and understand the other personís
feelings and needs, you should:
Listen...donít talk: Give the
other person a chance to get his/her own ideas
and opinions across. Listen for understanding,
rather than spending the time in preparation
for your next remark.
Ask questions: Guard against
assuming that you know what the person meant
or felt by asking questions to assure your
understanding. Ask questions that result in a
more informative answer than "yes"
Keep an open mind: Donít just
listen for statements that back up your own
opinions and support your beliefs. Be willing
to listen to someone elseís point of view
Donít jump to conclusions: Donít
assume you have the gist of the conversation
or think you already know what the speakerís
going to say next. If you donít listen, you
may miss the real point the speaker is trying
to get across.
Listen "between the lines":
Remember, a lot of clues to meaning come from
the speakerís tone of voice, facial
expressions and gestures. Body language is
usually an accurate indication of the
speakerís attitude or emotional state.
Concentrate on what is not being said as well
as what is being said.
Provide feedback: Make eye contact
with the speaker. Nod your head when you
understand a specific point or provide other
feedback that shows you are really listening.
Summarize: When the person finishes
speaking, repeat what the speaker has said ó
in your own words ó to confirm with the
speaker that you understand. Summarize points
of agreement or disagreement.
Conflict management styles
Although we all deal with conflict differently,
there are five primary ways people respond to
Avoidance: People who hate
confrontations which might result in the other
persons anger, sarcasm, rejection, and so on,
withdraw from the situation rather than face
up to it. They are usually sensitive to their
own and others feelings, and donít want to
be hurt themselves or hurt others.
Accommodating: These people suppress
their own needs, opinions, and feelings,
sacrificing their own interests and needs in
order to solve the conflict. Their attitude is
"anything for a quiet life" or
"peace at any price."
Win/Lose: At the other end of the
spectrum are those who see conflict as a
competition in which there has to be a winner
and a loser. Their attitude is "win at
any cost." They force their interests and
ideas onto the other person, often through
violence, bribery or punishment. The outcome
is usually a battle in which relationships
Compromising: Both sides meet
"halfway" in order to reach an
agreement. In some cases, it is the best
solution possible; but with both sides giving
up something in order to reach an agreement,
often the best solution is not achieved.
Oftentimes, both parties feel cheated and
dissatisfied with the outcome.
Problem Solving: If it can be
achieved, the ideal solution is one where both
parties emerge as "winners." By
defining both partyís needs, then trying to
equitably meet those needs while supporting
and respecting both peopleís values, a
win/win solution can often be achieved.
Relationships are maintained and often
The problem solving approach
In most cases, the problem solving approach is
the best way to resolve conflicts successfully.
Follow these guidelines:
- Acknowledge the problem - Decide to
discuss the problem or conflict. Determine
your own conflict resolution style. Schedule
- Discuss the problem - Decide what
questions to ask. Be prepared to listen. Do
you know what your point of view is? Do you
understand the other personís point of
- Agree on a solution - Come up with
as many ideas as possible and discuss each
alternative. Review the ideas together with
both peopleís interests and needs in mind.
Decide on a mutually acceptable solution.
Decide how to implement the solution.
- Monitor results - Decide how you
will verify that the solution is
implemented. Ensure the conflict has been
resolved to everyoneís satisfaction.
Determine if anything else needs to be done.
By using a problem solving approach to
conflicts, you are more likely to find solutions
that are agreeable and fair to everyone
involved. At the same time, you will be dealing
with conflict in a positive and healthy way,
encouraging open communication and problem
solving and strengthening personal and