how to resolve conflict

Four Steps To Resolving Conflict

Conflicts arise and can escalate quickly. They often occur in the midst of our day- to – day lives and we blow up at someone due to the stress of the day or the frustration of the situation.  There are steps that can be implemented to ensure that conflict doesn’t occur or at least it is minimized.

Let’s look at the scenario below.

A group of co-workers are gathered in the conference room for the weekly Tuesday morning meeting.  It is ten minutes past the start time and a crucial member of the team is late….again.  Reluctant to start without her the other people in the meeting start getting antsy and begin grumbling.

The late co-worker comes breezing in 15 minutes late, a coffee in hand.  “Sorry I’m late.”  And she sits down like nothing has happened.

The team leader has had enough and she lets the co-worker know it. 

 “You are always late.  Every meeting you are late and we sit here waiting for you to show up.  You don’t care about our time and you certainly don’t care about the meeting.”

How well do you suppose that scolding will be taken?  The late co-worker will get angry and react in one of two ways.  She will either be as vocal as the person who scolded her.  Yelling right back and becoming defensive.  The late co-worker was just attacked in front of her peers.  She has decided to fight back.   Let the screaming match begin.

Or she will just seethe quietly and engage in passive-aggressive behaviors.  “It won’t happen again.”  She tells the person who just yelled at her.  But internally she is saying, “I’ll show them.”  Next meeting, she is late.

How can you avoid these types of interactions? There are four simple and effective ways to successfully deal with a situation before it can turn into a major conflict.   Instead of confronting the late co-worker in front of her peers, set aside a time to discuss the issue at hand.  Preferably a neutral setting, like a coffee shop.  Then implement the four steps below:

1.       Use “I” statements. 

Tell the late co-worker how her actions make you feel or how they disrupt the schedule.  For example:

 “I am frustrated when you are late to our weekly Tuesday morning meetings.” 

Using “I” statements makes you take ownership of the feelings, which in reality is how you feel about the situation.  Taking ownership of how someone’s words or actions make you feel is just part of emotional maturity.

2.       Listen, listen, listen.

Often what happens is we do not listen to what the other person is saying.  Instead we are “verbally re-arming.”  “As soon as she gets done talking this is what I am going to say, if she ever shuts up that is, oh my goodness I can’t believe she just said that, I NEVER did that!!!”  When you have this dialogue going on there is no room to hear what the other person is saying.

3.       Re-state what the person just said.

Start with, “This is what I heard you say,” and repeat back what you heard.  This is a two-fold strategy. First it lets the person know that you really did listen and secondly it provides you a moment or two to thoughtfully think about how to respond.  You do not have to provide a response immediately.  You can take a few seconds and think about your response.

4.       Provide a resolution to the issue.

Depending on the reason for the chronic lateness a solution to solve the problem is put on the table.

If the person is just someone who likes to sleep in this will be a possible solution:

“If you are late to the meeting I will start the meeting without you.  You will then be responsible for getting the missed information.”     

Or if you find out there is a personal issue at home:

“I had no idea Tuesday’s was the day you were responsible for taking your mother breakfast.  Let’s see if we can start the meeting 30 minutes later.  If not you will need to make sure you get the information you missed.”

Implementing these four steps is a more adult way to handle conflict.  These steps take the issue “outside” the situation and help you calmly and rationally find a solution.

Shelly is a personal development strategist and founder of The Rescue Yourself Project helping women over 40 step into their unique selves so they can create a life they love!  A few years ago, she found herself living a life that wasn’t of her making. Deciding that wasn’t what she wanted she ran away from home and spent eight months “re-branding” herself. Today Shelly helps women find their unique selves by becoming experts about their values, strengths, passions, goals and purpose so they can design a life they love.  

7 Responses to Four Steps To Resolving Conflict

  1. Jo Casey says:

    I think this is such an important topic. So often people can get stuck in the mode of the problem being with the other person – we all need to take responsiblity to resolving conflict – especially our own part in creating it. I statements are so important because they require us to take personal responsibility for our own reactions and takes some of the accusatory tone out of the conversation. It’s important when we’re letting someone know how we feel/think about a situation that’s upset us that we’re delivering the message in a way the other person can hear.

    Another key reminder is to really listen – I love your point about verbally re-arming – I know I’ve been guilty of that more times than I care to think! Listening requires not just a willingness to keep quiet while the other person is speaking but a willingness to actually change our view when necessary. Great post!

  2. Thanks Jo. I came up with the idea of verbal re-arming as a way to explain what you do when you don’t listen. I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote, the willingness to change our views when necessary. It is so hard for people to do that! But that is critical in resolving conflict.

  3. Nicole Witt says:

    Great article Shelly. It is so important that people learn basic conflict resolution skills if we want the world to be a more peaceful place.

    It is also important for people to remember that if they can’t come up with a suitable resolution themselves, they can always seek the help of a mediator!

  4. Shelly Drymon says:

    Thanks Nicole! The steps are so simple – that anyone can implement them! But sometimes individuals are so angry or the conflict has gone on for so long that a mediator really is the only way to go.

  5. Nice Post! Seems like there’s a method of “neutralizing” someone before you state your point/points.

    What about breathing? When emotions are high, or we feel attacked or are in high pressure situations the breath is one of the first things to go!

    Remembering to breathe can lead to more rational decision making!

    Listen, Listen, Listen is my favorite. So nice you named it thrice!


  6. Shelly Drymon says:

    Thanks Josh. Yes breathing is also important. I often forget that item because I am a pretty calm person in almost all situations!

  7. Donna White says:

    Great! here you have described a lot about conflict resolution.Conflict can be start anytime with anyone, should prepare for up-coming dispute. Conflict resolution can be done with the help of mediators at dispute resolution centre or using online dispute resolution ( ODR ), Telephone Dispute Resolution ( TDR ) and Face-To-Face Dispute resolution methods.
    I would like to introduce “interMEDIATE Dispute Management” leading dispute resolution services providers in Australia and Worldwide.
    Anyone can prepare himself/herself to face a conflict using conflict coaching.

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