Conflict Resolution Techniques: A Commonsense Perspective
Many books, articles and online searches are full of different conflict resolution techniques and suggestions for use in marriages, in the workplace and other interpersonal relationships. Typically, these resources focus on common communication styles used during conflict, pointing out the “does and don’ts” people should be aware of. It’s suggested that styles using passive aggressive tactics, adopting a “win-lose” position or avoiding conflict altogether fail to contribute to meaningful dialogue or resolution of a problem. Using “I” statements vs. “you” statements is often suggested as a positive way of communicating, as is open-mindedness and adopting a “win-win” attitude. All of these suggestions have validity and are useful in helping people learn how to communicate more effectively. As a therapist, I use many of these ideas with clients who are experiencing difficulty in communicating and resolving conflict. In addition to these approaches, I also encourage my clients to consider some commonsense perspectives related to communicating, especially during times of disagreement or misunderstanding.
Common sense: many people have it but sometimes forget how to use it. Since conflict in human relationships appears to be inevitable, common sense suggests that reframing the meaning one gives to the term “conflict” and to understand it as a normal part of human interaction will go a long way to help build stronger relationships. If conflict is understood as normal, it will no longer be something to fear and avoiding it will not be an option. Since conflict is inevitable, why can’t dealing with it also become quite manageable? It’s important to keep in mind that human beings experience conflict because of their individual differences; yet in many ways people are much more alike than they are different. It is part of the “human condition” to want to be understood, to be listened to, to feel that others respect your opinion, even if they don’t necessarily agree.
Common sense also tells us that no one appreciates being confronted in an angry, harsh or dismissive manner. If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of this type of approach, you know what I’m talking about. When confronted by someone who appears angry or annoyed, the natural response is to become defensive. When a person becomes defensive, they automatically tune out the other person’s thoughts and ideas and focus on proving their own point. It becomes a battle…..a battle that no one wins. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget to stay calm, logical and rational. When there is conflict (even if it’s still in the “brewing” stages), and you know that avoiding confronting the situation or person should not be one of your options (because nothing will ever get resolved if you avoid), try to “respond” rather than “react”. In other words, stop, take a deep breath, and begin speaking with calm intention. This act of self-regulation can go a long way in reducing unpleasant, ineffective communication, even in the midst of disagreement.
The next time you are in disagreement or misunderstanding with someone, try remembering that it’s normal and to be expected. Conflict doesn’t have to be negative. Remember also how you feel when approached by someone who is open-minded and calm. You are more likely to want to hear what that person has to say and less likely to tune them out. Chances are, the person you are confronting will feel the same way. Approaching differences with calmness and openness requires awareness, practice and patience. It won’t happen overnight, but the payoffs will be worth the effort.