conflict resolution strategies - sketch on a cocktail napkin with a cup of coffee

Conflict may be inevitable – how we successfully deal with conflict is not.

Someone once said, “Anytime you have two people in a relationship, it’s dysfunctional” and this seems to play out daily in our lives.  

Daily our realities bump into other people’s realities and when these realities meet and agree, things are golden.  Unfortunately, as soon as my beliefs, values, wants, or expectations bump into someone else’s beliefs, values, wants, or expectations and they are different, hold on, it’s about to get bumpy.  So, how do we learn to cope and manage conflict?  This all depends on your desired outcome or goal for the situation.

What’s your outcome goal? Whatever you’re about to say, think, or do will either take you one step closer to your goal or one step farther away.

We’ve all met people we don’t like. They are too different from us; they want something we can’t or won’t give, or they just rub us wrong from the get go.  Yet, we sometimes need to work with these people and figure out a way to either ‘get along’ and ‘move forward.’  So, the ability to manage conflict is key to a good life and healthy relationships.

Five simple strategies:

  • Personalize nothing. Miguel Ruiz talks about this at length in his book the Four Agreements. Personalization is all about the ego. We get into trouble in a couple of ways with this one. Either we personalize something that is said or done to us and react poorly or we misinterpret something that is said or done to us, believing it’s about us and react poorly.  It’s hard, but important to remember that nothing is personal.  Everything that anyone says or does to you tells you about them.  It doesn’t mean you need to just sit and take it, but you may need to plan the best way to effectively handle the situation or behavior.  It might be time for healthier boundaries or it might be time for an important conversation about your perspective. Try to take time to breathe and let yourself cool down.  When you react without working through a planned response, it often hurts more than it helps.
  • Listen to understand, not for ammo.  I first thought about this concept when I became a 7 Habits Facilitator.  When we find ourselves in a situation where we don’t like someone or are feeling angry or defensive, it’s easy to hear the other person’s words and not “listen” to understand. Hearing someone’s words and listening are different activities.  People sometimes assume that listening to someone equals agreement.  But listening and understanding where people are coming from doesn’t mean we agree with them, it means we are trying to understand their perspective.  Working to understand another person will often pave the way to reducing conflict, plus it models the behavior you want to see.
  • Be willing to find the middle path.  In the past 20 years, I have worked with individuals, couples, organizations and teams, and a one-sided push for a one-sided outcome is often expensive.  If we want a way through conflict, we need to be willing to find the middle way. We often assume we are fighting a war and must win, but in fact when we respond with a win/lose mentality, we’re creating future problems.  In most relationships, if one of us loses, we are both ultimately losing.  A willingness to brainstorm solutions and create a plan that works for both people will lead to far longer lasting solutions.
  • Take responsibility.  When we are defensive or angry, the hardest thing to do is take personal responsibility for any part of the conflict.  I’m not saying you need to take 100% responsibility for the whole situation. You do need to take 100% responsibility for your part. If you’re in a conflict, you’ve participated in the conflict on some level. Sometimes, even by accident, someone might personalize something you said or misinterpret your meaning.  If you can “own” your side of the street, you can reduce the drama of conflict.
  • Turn conflict on its head. Most of us are taught that conflict is angry, maybe ugly. It is a fight and it has a winner and a loser. But, what if we change how we think about conflict? Conflict, or as I like to call it Passionate Disagreement, can also be a force of good. Conflict gives us opportunity to work through differences, build insights, see a situation from multiple perspectives, and this kind of constructive conflict is capable of bringing us together. Some would say we cannot deeply trust people until we know how they handle conflict. Until we experience how people will behave in disagreements, we don’t fully know them. Few important problems are solved because everyone was trying to be nice and just get along. I’ve experienced the connection that comes from having a passionate disagreement, working through that disagreement and building a more powerful relationship or solution. This level of connection is called intimacy.

If you change how you respond or react to conflict, you can shift the majority of conflicts that roll your way. 

You will meet people who do not want to compromise; they aren’t interested in your perspective and they may even be looking for a fight. Inevitably, I have found I get much better results with these five strategies.

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