Effective Conflict Resolution

Conflict is often a part of our lives – in our work environments and in our personal lives. How we respond to conflict makes all the difference when it comes to successful resolutions that can strengthen teams and relationships or widening divisions that can eventually destroy a team or a relationship. Here is a practical, easy to implement approach to conflict resolution that will help you reach productive solutions and outcomes the next time a conflict arises.

Step One: Define the problem in terms of needs, not competing solutions. To begin, state the problem in a way that does not communicate blame or judgment. Making “I” statements is one very effective way of stating a problem in a non-punitive way. After making an “I” statement, then engage in active listening so you can empathize with the other person’s feelings and needs. Ask clarifying questions so you can better understand his or her side of the situation. Before continuing, be sure you both accept the definition of the problem.

Step Two: Generate possible solutions without evaluating them. Creativity enters the resolution process at this point as you both brainstorm all possible  solutions to the problem. All solutions must meet the requirement of meeting both of your needs in solving the problem.

Step Three: Evaluate and test the different solutions. At this stage, honesty is essential. Which of the solutions will work the best? Which has the best chance of being carried out by both of you? If needed, rethink the situation and come up with additional solutions.

Step Four: Decide on a mutually acceptable solution. Both of you must make a commitment to one solution. To do this, neither one of you should use power or persuasion. You must both freely chose to implement the solution. It is a good idea to write down the agreed upon solution so there is less chance of misunderstanding what is to be done.

Step Five: Implement the solution. Carrying out the solution generally means talking about who is to do what and by when. Trust that the other person will uphold their part of the agreement is essential.  However, if the solution is not implemented, you have another problem that can be approached in the same way. If the situation remains unsolved, you may need to confront the other person using “I” statements about his or her lack of action.

Step Six. Evaluate the solution. If a weakness in the solution becomes apparent, you may have to develop a new solution using this process. It needs to be understood and agreed that all solutions are open to re-evaluation and modification.

As you process through to a solution, the following skills are effective to use:

  • Active listening
  • Clear and honest communication
  • Respect for the needs of others
  • Trust
  • Being open to new information
  • Persistence
  • Firmness in your unwillingness to accept failure
  • Refusal to revert to win/lose or lose/lose approaches.