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4 Skills to Manage Conflict

4 Skills for Effective Dispute Management


It's quite common for people to experience conflict in the workplace and elsewhere in life. Effective conflict management is essential to preserving important relations and ensuring a productive, comfortable work environment. In the interest of finding constructive solutions to conflict, here are four strategies for conflict management. This advice will be useful in all areas of your life, including parenting, professional and romantic relationships.

Communication: Good verbal or written communication can diffuse a lot of unnecessary conflict. Many people argue because they feel unheard. By actively listening, you can alleviate hurt feelings and inspire trust. A few examples of good communication skills include:

  • Addressing a growing problem right away before it becomes a full-blown crisis
  • Drawing out the feelings and perspectives of a reluctant participant
  • Formalizing agreements between combatants that satisfy both parties
  • Listening without interrupting as the other party shares his or her perspective
  • Mediating, negotiating and modeling reasonable dialogue
  • Identifying hidden grievances by meeting with parties individually
  • Identifying conflict-provoking actions and providing alternative behaviors

Emotional Intelligence: This refers to a person's ability to understand and handle their own feelings and those of others. Emotionally intelligent people are good at taking responsibility for their personal needs and feelings, while also identifying and meeting the needs of others. They often do this by:

  • Calmly asserting personal feelings without blaming others
  • Compromising when possible to accommodate others
  • Forgiving transgressions and recognizing behavior improvements on the part of antagonists
  • Identifying actions and behaviors that trigger conflict
  • Setting clear ground rules for more productive dialogs
  • Demonstrating a willingness to change problematic behavior

Empathy: Effective conflict resolution typically depends on a person's ability to see a situation from another person's viewpoint. For certain people, this comes naturally; on the other hand, others must work to develop it. Ideally, empathy should be accompanied by intellectual understanding of the other's situation, since emotional empathy can create a complicated enmeshment. Hallmarks of productive empathy include:

  • Recognizing that a problem exists before it becomes a crisis
  • A strong commitment to resolving problems to each person's satisfaction
  • Demonstrating an understanding of the needs and feelings of the other party
  • Identifying non-verbal cues which indicate anger and frustration

Creative Problem Solving: All of the above skills are essential to conflict resolution. That said, they won't amount to much if you cannot find a solution to the underlying problem. Conflicts often occur because neither party can think of a workable solution which meets the needs of everyone involved. This makes creative problem-solving an invaluable tool in everyday life. It also makes it an in-demand skill in professional settings.

Creative problem solvers tend to focus on shared values, while centering discussions on gains rather than losses. They are also more willing to reexamine sacred issues, especially if these appear to be troublesome sticking points that prevent things from moving forward.

When to Seek Help

Sometimes it's difficult for two people to resolve a conflict, especially if one or both parties harbor feelings of resentment. In these instances, it's generally best to enlist a mediator or some other unbiased third party to help manage the conflict and come up with effective solutions. This could be a manager in the workplace or a therapist in personal relationships. Whatever the case, it's important to recognize when to reach out for help, especially if you just can't seem to make progress, despite your best efforts.

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