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Conflict Resolution

Conflict is a common and normal occurrence in everyday life, both personal and professional. Most conflicts are easily resolved without much thought or effort. On occasion however, a more serious conflict arises, requiring skill and thought to come to a successful resolution. While mismanaged or unresolved conflict can be harmful, conflict that is handled properly may ultimately strengthen a relationship.

The way in which an individual deals with conflict can be categorized into five general styles based on their assertiveness and empathy. It is important to have insight into your natural or preferred style of conflict resolution. Some styles are more healthy and successful than others.

Avoidance conflict style.

As the name implies, the style is characterized by avoiding the problem and allowing the situation to play out on its own. Since the conflict is not really addressed, this method may work for minor situations but rarely produces a successful or long lasting resolution to a significant conflict.

Yielding conflict style.

This style tends to be practiced by those with a high level of concern for the needs of others, often at the expense of their own needs. This typically results in a one-sided solution to the problem. While this style may result in a short-term solution, since it does not address the concerns of everyone equally, it frequently does not produce a long-term resolution to the conflict.

Aggressive conflict resolution style.

This style is characterized by a high level of assertiveness and a low level of empathy for others. This “win at any cost” technique frequently alienates the parties and usually results in hard feelings. While the conflict may be resolved, the relationship is frequently damaged.

Conciliation conflict style.

This style involves bargaining and compromise with the goal of meeting in the middle. This is a relatively common and healthy style that is more likely to result in a resolution that is acceptable to both parties.

Cooperative conflict style.

This style is practiced by those with a genuine high level of concern for their own interests as well, as the interests of others. This style looks for a resolution that is acceptable and beneficial to all parties. This type of resolution usually results in an equitable solution that will stand the test of time, and is the healthiest method of conflict resolution.

There are several important points to remember when engaging in conflict resolution. First, and perhaps most important, is to recognize and manage your emotions. Anger is frequently a component of conflict and must be controlled. When dealing with conflict it is best to remain calm and alert while also managing the internal stress that is inevitably present.

Emotional awareness is vital to understanding yourself and others, and will help you to be an effective communicator and listener. In addition to your own emotions, you also must be aware of the emotions and feelings of the other party. To understand someone else’s emotions, you must not only listen to what they say, but also look for nonverbal cues.

Conflict is stressful for all parties; relieving the stress of the situation helps everyone to remain calm and focused. Maintaining an environment that is comfortable and nonthreatening will help to minimize stress. Conflicts are best addressed in private and on neutral turf. When applied properly, humor can be a useful tool for reducing stress, but be careful not to give the impression that you are laughing at the other party.

Communication, verbal and nonverbal, is critical to the success of conflicts. Both parties must understand the issues causing the conflict, as well as what will be required to realize a successful resolution. Be clear and concise in your communication. It is often helpful to repeat what you heard from the other party. Nonverbal communication is just as important as verbal communication. Be observant of the other party’s body language, as well as ensuring your body language is not threatening.

Establishing trust is one of the first steps in successful conflict resolution. Be truthful when explaining your side of the story and during the resolution process. Keep your commitments. Successful conflict resolution is more like to occur in an environment of trust.

Successful conflict resolution is focused on the future not the past. While it is necessary to understand how the conflict occurred, it is counterproductive to dwell on past grievances. Remember the past cannot be changed. The focus of the resolution process must be on what will be done moving forward not rectifying past wrongs.

Finally, you must always put the relationship first. You don’t want the end result to be a favorable resolution to the conflict at the expense of permanent damage to the relationship. You must pick and choose which battles are important. At times, it may be better to resolve a conflict in a less favorable way in order to preserve and strengthen the relationship.

There is an extensive body of literature on conflict resolution, which will help improve your skills and prepare you for the day-to-day management of conflict. For complex conflict resolution, assistance from an unbiased third party or professional may be required.