Conflict Management Skills for Everyday Life

While it is true that we cannot always prevent conflict, we can always nip it in the bud by imbibing and consciously deploying conflict resolution skills every time we find ourselves in a dispute. If we make a deliberate attempt to resolve conflict at the early stages, we may not have to deal with sour relationships, wasted time, high costs of litigation and other painful outcomes of full-blown conflict.

Here are some strategies for managing conflicts at work, with customers and in other contexts of everyday life:

1. Find a Common Ground
Empathise with the other party. Let them feel that you understand their position and you’re willing to work out an agreeable resolution. You can say something like: “I’ve experienced this myself, so I understand your position. Your reaction is perfectly normal and I will see what I can do to resolve the issue.” Such statement puts the other party at ease and makes it much easier to deal with the conflict. We may disagree with someone on many things but if we can find the one thing that we agree on, it can be the starting point for resolving the conflict.

2. Calm Down and Listen
To resolve a conflict, you need to see the bigger picture and you cannot see the bigger picture if you’re agitated. When you stay calm you have the presence of mind needed to carry out a fair assessment of the situation and take practical steps towards reaching a settlement. Staying calm requires active listening. You must listen to the other party with the intent to understand them rather than as a preparation for issuing your own response. As Stephen Covey famously said, we must seek to understand before seeking to be understood. Use expressions like, “I’m with you”, “Please go on” to show the other party that they have your attention and their concern matters to you. It is important that you let people vent their anger without feeling interrupted. Active listening helps you see beyond the explicit and understand the underlying causes of the conflict. Conflict resolution is not just about settling the issue; it’s also about making the aggrieved parties feel heard and having their concerns validated.

3. Attack Issues, Not Personalities
You will be more effective if you avoid making personal comments. For example, instead of saying something like, “You are always disorganised!” you could say, “How can we sort things out?” Usually, conflicts make us so angry that beyond resolving the issue, we want to throw jabs or make caustic remarks about the other party. We must resist this tendency and focus on the issue so we can thoughtfully consider and work out an amicable resolution.

4. Don’t Play the Blame Game
When things go wrong, we naturally want to assign faults. But finding faults or assigning blames will only make matters worse. When you make people feel they are at fault, it is more difficult to get them to contribute meaningfully to the conflict resolution process. If you’re going to allot blame at all, allot it to yourself. The point here is to focus on the solution, not the problem, knowing that what has happened in the past is not as important as how you intend to make things better in the future. What can each party do to improve the relationship or address the matter at hand? That’s the right question to ask instead of trying to determine who is at fault.

5. Be Confident
When you feel wronged, don’t just take it in and pretend everything is fine, all because you want to avoid confrontation. In the end, that doesn’t help anyone. Rather, take the opportunity to demonstrate and refine your conflict resolution skills as you approach the issue with tact and confidence. Let it be clear that you’re simply out to seek redress and reach a workable resolution, not to spite the other party or do anything that will put them on the defensive.

Imbibing these skills takes time. It may require stamping out old habits and developing new ones. Yet, if everyone will learn these skills and put them to work, we can keep conflicts at a minimal level without resorting to litigation or engaging the services of a mediator.

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