Written by Karelyn Farrand (former SDSU Extension Regional 4-H Youth Program Advisor).
What thoughts come to mind when you hear the word “conflict”? Do you have thoughts of aggression, hostility, power struggles and bullies? Does just thinking of the word make you feel uneasy? Conflict seems to be something that most people want to avoid due to the fear of the confrontation in the conflict, the anger associated with the conflict or if the conflict is seen as destructive.
As long as people live, it will be normal and inevitable to have conflict. But not all conflict is harmful or bad. Conflict can be a constructive and positive experience for the people involved.
There are two kinds of conflict, destructive and constructive. Destructive conflict damages relationships, develops hurt feelings and leads to more problems in the future. While constructive conflict helps us to learn, develop skills and become more opened minded and tolerant of other people’s ideas and opinions. In the end we are able to build stronger relationships with the people we come in contact.
So, what makes the difference? How we respond to the conflict and the methods that are used to deal with the conflict, rather than the conflict itself, is what causes painful, frightening or even damaging experiences. Everyone benefits from learning and practicing conflict resolution skills. Bullies discover the real power of solving problems without using force or intimidation. While victims are empowered to seek out solutions and not give up and give in.
One of the greatest life skills to help in conflict resolution is effective communication. To help constructively resolve a conflict practice and follow these conflict resolution communication steps:
- Cool down. Don’t try to resolve a conflict when either party is up-set, angry or emotional. Take a time-out and agree to meet at another time, within 24 hours.
- Describe the Conflict. Using their own words, each person should state only the information they know to be true about the conflict, not their feelings. No put downs allowed! Each person may have a different recall of the conflict and use different words. It is important to remember that neither account is “right” or “wrong”.
- Describe the cause of the conflict. Each person should describe what events lead up to the conflict. What happened first, next and so on? Did the conflict start as a difference in opinion or a slight disagreement? What turned it into a conflict? It is important not to blame either person.
- Describe the feelings raised by the conflict. Each person should describe how the conflict is affecting their feelings. Honesty is important. Again, no blaming allowed.
- Listen to understand the other person’s point of view. Listen carefully and with respect while the other person is speaking. Do not interrupt them, instead wait until they are finished speaking to paraphrase, probe or reframe what you have heard them say about the events of the conflict and their feelings. Examples: “Your feelings were hurt when I called you a name?” “You’re sad because you were left out?”
- Brainstorm solutions to the conflict. Everyone thinks of as many solutions as they can. Remember not to laugh at anyone’s ideas, all positive ideas are okay, even if they seem unrealistic. After a list of ideas has been made, select a solution to try. It is important to be willing to negotiate and compromise.
- Try your solution. Give the solutions your best effort. Be patient.
- If one solution doesn’t work, try another. Keep trying to find a workable solution.
If you have tried all of the steps and none of your solutions have worked, you may need to decide, to agree to disagree. Sometimes that is the best you can do. This does not mean you have to end your relationship. People can get along even when they disagree.
- Take A Stand Curriculum, AgriLife Extension, September, 2009.
- The Bully Free Classroom-Over 100 Tips and Strategies for Teacher K-8, Allan L. Beane, Ph.D., 2005.
- Conflict resolution: Five simple tips for handling a difficult situation, Yvonne Wichtner-Zoia, Michigan State University Extension, November, 2012.