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Six steps for resolving conflict

Many conflicts involve a problem that needs to be addressed.

Here is the 6 steps anyone can follow to resolve both the problem and the conflict it has created:

  1. Frame the problem
  2. Practice active listening
  3. Identify area of agreement
  4. Explore solution together
  5. Agree and decide on a plan
  6. Look ahead

(1) Frame the problem

When you’re working to resolve a conflict with another person, it’s important to define the problem and frame it constructively.

Make sure to:

  • Describe your difficulties as differences between you, not as character flaws.
  • Focus on perceptions, not presumed truths. Get the facts right and try as much as possible to be objective on the situation and problem.
  • Emphasize contributions, not blame. Don’t go below the line, minimize finger pointing, focus on the solution.
  • Communicate feelings, not accusations. Violent venting of emotion won’t help in framing the problem right, but to push your feelings and emotion is not good for you, therefore, practice to express your feelings effectively.

(2) Practice active listening

It seems that we focus too much on what to say rather than listening, therefore, its a very rare occasion where we listen to understand, most of the time, we listen just to make sure we give a proper reply.

Therefore, in order to ensure the conflict or issue at hand is given its due solution, you must actively listen to what the other person has to say.

In order to listen actively, here is what you should practice to do –

  • Give your full attention. Resist the urge to interrupt, plan your next comment, or judge them. Use nonverbal behavior—such as leaning forward and nodding—to demonstrate that you’re really paying attention. Rule of thumb is a minimum 2 minutes space for the other person to fully expressed their view on the situation.
  • Ask clarifying questions. Ask open-ended questions to encourage the other person to clarify their perceptions of what’s important and why. Start your questions with phrases such as:
    • “How do you feel about…”
    • “What happened when…”
    • “Tell me about…”
  • Paraphrase to show understanding. Periodically paraphrase what you’re hearing, being sure to reflect the emotions as well as the content of the message:​
    • “As I understand it, your position is…”
    • “You seem to be concerned about…”

If the other person disagrees with your paraphrasing, ask them to clarify the point. Then paraphrase again to see if you accurately understand the message.

  • Listen for affirming signals. In addition to comments of agreement from the other person, body language such as smiling, nodding, leaning forward, and sighs of relief also suggest that you’re on the right track.​

(3) Identify areas of agreement

Finding common ground with your counterpart doesn’t imply that you have to agree on everything, you can agree to disagree on certain area. It means identifying where your interests, perspectives, and goals overlap. Although this can be especially challenging across differences—generational, cultural, job function, and so on—being willing to engage with your counterpart is vital to resolving your conflict.

To find areas of agreement:

Don’t cast blame. If your focus is strictly on assigning responsibility for the situation, then your chances of resolving the conflict are slim.

  • Address the other person’s worst fear. By eliminating the possibility that your counterpart’s most dreaded outcome will come to pass, you’ll help ease any defensiveness and free them to discuss other options.
  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Let go of the need to “win.” Often, parts of both positions are right.
  • Look at your shared goals or purpose. You and your counterpart likely have certain common commitments, such as maintaining the quality of your company’s products.

(4) Explore solutions together

Next, explore potential solutions by looking for creative options that address each side’s concerns and interests.

When exploring possible alternative approaches for resolving the conflict, follow these steps. You may need to cycle through them more than once as you approach a resolution:

  1. Clearly express your point of view.
  2. Summarize your differences.
  3. Ask questions.
  4. Make proposals.

Be creative and collaborative as you generate options together. By adopting some of the ideas that come to light during this process, you can develop better solutions than you might have on your own. And as you make proposals, ask your counterpart for constructive criticism. Remember, there’s almost always more than one way to solve a problem.

Just a reminder, don’t start with your proposal in this stage. Because if you do so, it would seem that you did not care about others proposal. Hence, step (1),(2), and (3) would go to waste.

(5) Agree and decide on a plan

Once you have explored potential solutions, agree on a plan for ending the conflict and moving ahead.

Make sure your plan:

  • ​​Satisfies as many interests as possible
  • Is fair and reasonable
  • Preserves the relationship 

Document your agreement in writing, perhaps in an email and clarify how the the plan is going to be carried out. That way, you can ensure that both of you are accountable for the solution you’ve developed together.

(6) Look ahead

As you discuss ways to implement the plan:

  • Measurable Result: Determine how you’ll measure success. Your definition of “success” will vary, depending on the source of the conflict. In a task-based conflict, two team leaders might agree to meet certain project deadlines. Hitting those target dates would constitute success. In a difficult interaction that stems from relationship issues, success might include a boss remembering to check with her employee before accepting an assignment on her behalf. Or it might be a coworker refraining from dominating the discussion during a meeting.
  • Communication: Decide how you’ll communicate going forward. Don’t assume the issue is resolved just because you’ve come up with a mutually agreeable plan. You may agree to meet once a week to discuss how things are going and make necessary changes to the action plan. Or you may decide to check with each other daily by phone or email. Be sure to also agree on how you will handle any tension that arises during these discussions. You may want to establish ground rules, such as “No blaming or character judgments allowed.”

When you can’t resolve a conflict

If, in the event that despite your best efforts, you don’t able to resolve a conflict to the mutual satisfaction of you and the other person.

So what you should do? Here are among some suggestions –

  • You can take a break. Doing so can be particularly effective when you and your counterpart have reached an impasse or when they are insisting on an outcome that you don’t find acceptable. You can check back with each other after a cooling-off period.
  • You can get someone more senior involved or your common immediate superior. That person might be able to suggest a solution that you and the other party overlooked. They could potentially solve the problem by providing additional resources or extending deadlines. Or they could simply make the decision for you.
  • You can get your needs met another way. By thinking creatively, you may be able to get what you need without the other person.



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